11. THE W.H.O MASK: Inverting the pyramid

Are masks essential or not? Contradictory messages are delivered and, as a result, there’s confusion. The World Health Organization (WHO), via its website, stated that healthy people needed to wear masks only if they were caring for someone infected, or if they had coughs or sneezes. The message of not desperately going out to buy masks was reinforced by authorities from different countries, such as Jerome Adams —Surgeon General of the United States—, who wrote in a Tweet:

 “Really. Don’t buy more masks. They are not efficient in preventing the general public from catching the virus.”

These tips were criticized by several specialists, arguing that there were many infected people without symptoms that could infect others. What seemed to be behind this advice from the highest national and planetary health authorities was to avoid depriving the people who needed the masks the most. Somehow, it seems that the authorities wanted to invert the mask-possession pyramid. With the initial panic, some people and governments formed the base of the pyramid, gathering masks and leaving the personnel who really needed them at the apex of the pyramid, leading to shortages of masks. It must be remembered that many of these masks are disposable, which is why, in places where they are used frequently, such as hospitals, they need a continuous supply. Perhaps the only way to invert that pyramid, meaning that those who have most of the masks are those who need them most, was to say that masks were not essential to protect “regular people” from this coronavirus. But reversing a pyramid takes time, just as it took time to flip the pyramid of football tactics.

In the late 19th century, in England, Cambridge University AFC and Nottingham Forest were the first teams to employ a pyramid structure as a tactic —one goalkeeper, two defenders, three midfielders, five forwards—. Acclaimed authority Jonathan Wilson wrote the book Inverting the Pyramid about the evolution of football tactics. He explains how the pyramid was inverted during the 20th century, to end up playing, for example, with five defenders, three midfielders and two forwards. Weeks after the outbreak appeared in Europe, it did not appear that the WHO had reversed the pyramid because some governments and people continued in psychosis by accumulating excess masks, limiting the supply of those who were fighting on the front line against COVID-19.

With our species’ reputation of selfishness, reversing the mask-possession pyramid would take time, although not as long as the decades it took for modern football to evolve from 2-3-5 to 5-3-2. The emergency solutions to the shortage of masks have been the adaptation of industries for mass production, and initiatives by local organizations and individuals, who have taken the sewing machine out of the storage room to produce homemade masks. To be completely fair to our species, in every crisis there are also anonymous and altruistic heroes.