This One Habit May Be Why Japan's Coronavirus Death Rate Is So Low

There may be a good reason for the less than 1,000 deaths in this densely populated country.

As of June 17, Japan has recorded less than 1,000 total deaths from the coronavirus. By comparison, the United States has seen COVID-19 claim over 117,000 lives. And the much less populated nations of Italy and Spain have seen 34,000 and 27,000 deaths respectively. So, what is keeping citizens in Japan from succumbing to the novel coronavirus? It may be all about their face masks use, as Vanity Fair points out.

For a nation of roughly 127 million citizens to only have 17,000 cases is, by any measure, remarkable. That's a .01 percent infection rate. The U.S. has over 329 million citizens and has seen 2.1 million cases, a .6 percent rate, 60 times greater than Japan's.

What's even more remarkable is that Japan has not gone into lockdown throughout the global pandemic. Most businesses have remained open—as are subways—though the Japanese are practicing social distancing.

So, how did they do it?

Close up face of young woman wearing mask and coughing

De Kai, PhD, an computer scientist at UC Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute and at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told Vanity Fair that one reason for Japan's impossibly low coronavirus cases is "that nearly everyone there is wearing a mask."

According to Kai's recent research, if 80 percent of a closed population wore masks, whether surgical or homemade, scarf or bandana—as they do in Japan and in other East Asian countries—COVID-19 infection rates would drop precipitously. His research shows that the population would see approximately one-twelfth the number of infections as a population in which no one wore masks.

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But establishing a critical mass is key to the public health benefits of mask-wearing. When nearly half of a closed population wears masks, the benefits become next to nonexistent. "If you get down to 30 or 40 percent," Kai told Vanity Fair, "you get almost no [beneficial] effect at all."

East Asian countries have been dealing with previous outbreaks like SARS, and as a result, wearing a mask is seen less as a chore or infringement on one's personal liberty, and instead, a civic responsibility. Given the sharp spikes in coronavirus cases in some U.S. states and the ongoing public battle over masks, it seems like Americans may want to follow in Japan's footsteps. And for more on masks, check out Doing This to Your Face Mask Kills 99.9 Percent of All Germs.

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