Letter: Pandemic challenges those with hearing loss

Graphic by Lori Deaton

May has been designated Speech and Hearing Month. This May, it was especially difficult for those with hearing loss in the Asheville area and elsewhere to deal with barriers to communication set up to prevent virus spread. These barriers are necessary. Slowly, those of us with hearing loss have been finding ways to deal with them, at least to some extent. They may be with us for quite some time.

People with hearing loss need to share ideas about communicating in this situation, and it is important for others in the community to realize what some of their friends, customers or patients are experiencing.

Masks heavily reduce volume and clarity of speech. Across 6 feet, it’s impossible for many to hear, even with moderate loss. Lip-reading, on which a lot of us depend, is also impossible across that distance. Masks with clear centers are made but are not yet available widely. A particular problem is that people with hearing loss need the other person to wear one. Some medical settings are trying to obtain them. And telehealth can be helpful, too.

Wearing masks of any kind is difficult, especially with glasses, too. Commonly they attach behind the ear with elastic extensions. Great care is needed in removal if hearing aids are not to go flying. Losses are frequent, which can create big problems. Some headgear is made with buttons, and some masks tie, which helps. Some advocate using a paper clip extended to catch both elastics behind the head, which can work quite well.

There are apps that transcribe for captioning, so someone can speak close to a phone held toward them while reading the captions is attempted by someone else. But across 6 feet? Difficult!

American Sign Language (ALS) is the language of choice for those who are completely or almost deaf, and those with serious hearing loss from childhood may also find that the easiest way to communicate with similar others. We’ve all seen interpreters at work. However, often it’s not understood that those represent a minority of people with hearing loss. A large proportion of such people only developed it late in life, so they have to get by in the hearing world, virus or no.

Please, readers, particularly in medical settings and grocery or other stores, be patient and as helpful as possible when you encounter people with hearing loss. They may be stressed out.

For more, contact akarson57@gmail.com. Or better, go to the Hearing Loss Association of America website for tips and information: [avl.mx/7bv].

— Ann Karson



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2 thoughts on “Letter: Pandemic challenges those with hearing loss

  1. Lou

    You make excellent points! I have see the new masks with clear vinyl in the middle…great idea for lipreading if that is what you may rely on. I hope this will open up a discussion, especially in medical facilities, about ways we can all assist people with different communication needs.

  2. C-Law

    Excellent points Ms. Karson. And the shame of it is that none of the face diapers and anti-social distancing had or have anything to do with science or safety…sucks to live in Clown World!

    Let’s look at physics and mathematics folks.

    We’ll start with a single cough or sneeze.

    Everyone “knows” that if you cover a cough or sneeze, and you should do it into your sleeve instead of your hand, this will reduce the risk of someone else getting a virus you may have, right?


    It doesn’t. So says the science! This is a myth, just like it is a myth that you can wear a mask and reduce transmission.

    Wait — you say! YUCK; that’s obvious that it helps.

    Well, no.

    Here’s why.

    You sneeze and a huge loogie comes out your nose. Yuck! Nasty! Mucus, full of germs.

    It goes, if uncovered…… downward, on the floor.

    And harms nobody.

    It’s disgusting, but that’s it. You should still do it anyway because it’s disgusting not to, but you won’t stop a virus by doing so.

    What? If I stop the loogie then how come that doesn’t do anything?

    Because in addition to the loogie out come a bunch of large drops, each also laden with virus. Maybe a few hundred drops. Yuck! Thus covering or physically blocking those will reduce transmission to other people, right?

    Wrong again, statistically speaking.


    Because in that same forceful exhale are an enormous number of sub-micron water droplets that are formed as the saturated vapor in your lungs (100% RH in expired air) cools slightly as it travels up from the lungs to the trachea and out the mouth or nose and comes into contact with the ambient air (well, unless it’s over 98.6F in the air where you are anyway!)

    Remember your basic physics: As any saturated vapor cools it condenses. Any saturated vapor that cools by even a tiny amount will condense — that is, coalesce the individual vapor molecules into larger aggregates.

    Ordinary “tidal volume” (that is, the amount of air you move in a resting condition with each inhalation) is about 500ml. For a cough or sneeze it is much larger; the maximum volume of air that can be inspired in adult human lungs typically is in the range of 4-6L, or eight to 12 times the “at rest” breathing amount.

    When we breathe normally we produce very few or no large droplets. When we sing, play a wind instrument, yell, scream, cough or sneeze we produce a fairly large number of them.

    But none of this matters at all, statistically, because with each breath we produce millions of small condensate drops, and all of them which do not aggregate beyond the pore size of the medium in a mask will go right through said mask in either direction, most of those condensed molecules are produced between the lungs and either before or just after exit from the body due to condensation of the 100% RH water vapor and each of them, if you are infected with a virus, carries enough virons to infect another person.

    We’ve all “seen our breath” outside when it’s cold.

    That’s aggregation and condensation to a great enough degree that the aggregates are visible; there are thousands to millions more said aggregates that are too small to see and when it’s not cold outside none of them aggregate and condense sufficiently to be visible but they are all still there.

    This is why physics says that masks don’t work against viruses and exactly zero RCTs show that they do.

    ——Xiao, J., Shiu, E., Gao, H., Wong, J. Y., Fong, M. W., Ryu, S….Cowling, B. J. (2020). Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings—Personal Protective and Environmental Measures. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(5), 967-975. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2605.190994.

    Never mind the repeated attempts to do so including in 1918, which did nothing to prevent the spread.

    Every single person that has ever “seen their breath” in the winter months knows, if they think about it for 30 seconds, why masks can’t work and don’t.

    They can’t work because blocking 1,000 pretty-large droplets sounds like it’s great except hundreds of thousands or even millions of condensed water vapor molecule clusters were also expelled, they have enough virons on them to infect another person and very nearly zero of those are caught by the mask in either direction. Worse, every one of those, unless condensed out or breathed in by someone else can remain in the air for hours since they are small enough to remain within the purview of brownian motion of air molecules; that is, they “float” so to speak because the energy of said molecular vibration and ordinary air currents, even indoors, is large compared to the pull of gravity toward the ground and thus they remain suspended in the air.

    The reason we have a flu season, as I’ve noted, is that the higher the absolute humidity, which tracks with temperature, the greater the odds that further agglomeration of these clusters of molecules will occur and once they get large enough gravity takes over as they are too heavy and they fall to the ground harmlessly.

    So your mask stopped the nasty-looking and smelling loogie which can infect exactly one person, unless you wipe it around on people, and 1,000 of the 5,000 modest-size droplets you expelled. This is why the mask gets nasty all over the inside (which, by the way, if left on for any length of time or reused will breed bacteria on the inside surface which you can inhale, and it will be very bad for you if you do so.)

    But it’s worthless in terms of protecting anyone else because at the same time you expelled the 5,001 droplets and stopped 1,001, which sounds like a decent hazard reduction, you also expelled hundreds of thousands or even several million micrometer-size drops, an effective none of which were stopped, all of which are infectious, and thus you actually caught materially less than 1% of the potential infections that can screw someone else!

    1% is not statistically significant. Filtering out 0.1-1% of the infectious events out at the source DOES NOTHING.

    The reason workers in a virus lab wear moon suits, go through triple sets of sealed doors with decontamination procedures before that suit is removed and breathe pressurized outside air while inside the lab is that these are facts and said virus — any virus — will go right through any “mask.”

    Oh, and don’t run any bull**** about “oh it’s only so-called droplets”; nonsense. There’s zero scientific evidence for that. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this — there’s a group of 239 scientists who signed a letter to the WHO.


    Not that they should have needed to; unless you’re a mouth-breathing idiot the early outbreak in an apartment building at Wuhan where there were no plumbing traps and thus gas (aerosol) from people’s scat was getting into other people’s apartments and the outbreak occurred across floors units where the individuals had no reasonable possibility of personal or droplet contact along with the choir group that took all manner of reasonable precaution yet got infected anyway all make clear that in fact the so-called “large drop only” theory is nonsense. It not only has no basis given the spread we have observed it has no basis in physics either.

    Further, as I’ve repeatedly noted, that Covid-19 isn’t following the laws of physics on the agglomeration that occurs with absolute humidity is very strong evidence (but not proof), again on the science, that it is not predominantly being transmitted through the air but rather by contact with contaminated surfaces and since we know intact virus is found in feces fecal contamination is very likely involved (exactly as it is with polio, which also didn’t follow the laws of physics on aerosol transmission because it wasn’t, in the main, transmitted that way.)

    We have known all of this since February, as I have documented.

    Physics is not a list of suggestions folks.

    It is a list of natural laws that nobody can violate.

    Masks are worthless when it comes to viral transmission and in addition they are obviously also worthless against transmission that occurs due to contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. That’s the physics of it and nobody has ever demonstrated an ability to modify the laws of physics.

    Grow up, deal with the fact that masks are worthless, learn to live with the fact that this virus will not be responsive to voodoo or magical incantations by governors, mayors or anyone else. Manual removal of potential contamination from your hands by washing with soap and water will help, but there is no guarantee because as we know this virus can spread through multiple vectors. The sooner those who are not significantly harmed by this virus get it and thus inhibit transmission the sooner it will be equivalent in its impact to seasonal flu or less.

    There is no other reality folks, and for reasons I’ve explained before a vaccine is unlikely to work either. Don’t get your hopes up for that as you are very likely to be disappointed.

    If this nation cannot face the realities of physics then we are back to the persecution of Galileo and the burning of “witches” at Salem. There is utterly no point in my, or any other thinking person’s continued engagement on any matter of economics, politics, public health or other policy if that is to be the regression of intelligence and logic among the people of this nation as what was America is doomed to collapse back into the Dark Ages.

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