In the last couple of months, I have written multiple articles regarding COVID-19 and how to protect oneself and those around you during this time of risk. As a physician and science-based professional, I, like many of my colleagues, adjust our advice to patients based on the latest data.
If something changes, we change our approach in order best to ensure the safety and health of our patients. For example, when the warnings about contacting the virus due to touching of hard surfaces were relaxed, we adjusted based on new information. This will continue to occur as we learn more about this new virus and its behavior.
Some things, however, have not changed. For example, we know that the best way to avoid contracting the virus, as well as speeding the spread, is to adhere to social distancing, avoid touching one’s face, along with frequent washing of hands. These are accepted and the most effective ways of slowing the progression of the disease.
Health mask wearing is not on this list. Why?
How Health Masks Work
Masks are not an end-all solution. They are an aid to support the methods of safety. A cover keeps one from directly touching our own face. It also helps to stop droplets that may contain the virus from exiting your mouth and potentially spreading to others. It does not prevent one from inhaling the virus. Only a full-blown, filtered respirator can do that.
So, if it cannot prevent you from catching the virus, why wear one at all? Basically, to help protect others and help slow the spread of the disease. It is that simple. We know that people who never develop symptoms, but do indeed have the virus (asymptomatic carriers), may quickly spread the virus.
Even those who will eventually develop symptoms are themselves asymptomatic for a few days before becoming ill. Therefore, they can also unknowingly spread the virus to others.
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If we all return to basics of appropriate social distance, hand washing, sneezing into our arm, not touching our face, and yes, wearing a mask, we can help slow down the spread of this potentially deadly virus. These are the most effective risk-reducing techniques if used together and consistently by all of us.
The Politics Of Health Masks
There is no way to eliminate the risk of infection all together. This is the argument against wearing a mask. This fact challenged the notion of doing so and began the “no mask” argument.
Additionally, now that the wearing of a mask has been manipulated into a badge of either honor or one of defeat by disparate groups, it has made matters worse. Now, it is no longer a decision based on health, wellness, and social responsibility but a personal political statement.
I have participated in a good number of online discussions about wearing or not wearing a health mask. The arguments range from the inconvenient (challenging to eat, drink, communicate and exercise) to the draconian (power-grab by the authorities, violation of civil rights, and a control mechanism for global dominance).
Additionally, the politicization of the subject has local leaders passing the responsibility down the chain to local authorities who may lack access to higher-level data.
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That being said, it is not “against the law” to not wear a health mask. However, like being asked to wear a shirt and shoes into a business establishment, each and every store owner or shop tender can refuse you access of service if they choose to make masks mandatory in their business or shop.
This is NOT a violation of a person’s rights. It is, however, the right of the storeowner to allow for these precautions in their place of business.
Historical Use Of Masks
Wearing a health mask is not new. It has been in use for more than a century, initially in China, at the beginning of the 20th century, when they realized that the pneumonic plague was airborne and not transmitted by rats.
As beautifully described by Christos Lynteris in his article published in the New York times on February 13, 2020:
“Wearing a mask is a more consistent and effective way of covering our mouth and nose. It is more effective and convenient than covering our mouth and nose with our hands or arms. Covering our mouth and nose helps us reduce (not eliminate) the risk of infection; the more people do it, the lower the risk. You protect me, and I defend you. “
So, why so much anger concerning this topic? In a nutshell, because we are afraid? When humans respond to fear of one another we tend to rationalize and project our fears toward those who think or look different from us.
Our tribal instinct for protection in numbers kicks in and we head to our most favorable group. Therefore, it has been weaponized by influential organizations who know this behavior may lead people to group together for a sense of security, belonging, and identity and who will then ostracize or blame others.
Unfortunately, this instinctive separation can also lead to disunity, enmity, and violence against differing groups. The solution is to fight this segregationist tendency and to unify as a larger group.
Americans not a subgroup. Humans and not a nationality. Open and frank communication is also key. In communally sharing our fears, we will be empowered and feel less afraid and more in control. Proper leadership is needed to promote unity and behavior that helps protect us all. To do the opposite, encourage disunity, is a sadistic and politically expedient decision that seems to pit us against one another. To act irrationally when rationality is most needed.
Rationality Of Health Masks
The arguments for and against becomes intense and, at times, aggressive, and even violent. Rational thought, based on the data, suggests that it is best for all of us to wear a health mask while in social contact with each other (6ft or less).
It protects others and helps us diminish the probability that we, too, may become infected. Irrational thought tells us to ignore the data and to make this not an issue of helping one another but to focus on what some perceive it takes away or allows for – an erosion of personal rights, government overreach, and many other illogical arguments.
We do not yell FIRE in a crowded theater for a reason. Wearing a health mask is no different. Wearing a health mask is about protecting yourself and others. It is not a symbol of empathy, or intellectual superiority is just a protective barrier for droplets exiting your face through the openings it covers – your nose and mouth. Nothing more.
One of the oldest tricks in the book of rhetoric and debate is to force proponents into a defensive stance and discuss the “why not?” of their position. This is so common that many of us do so subconsciously. That becomes quite dangerous when dealing with health and life and death issues.
Each person must manage their lives as they see fit while, hopefully, keeping in mind others such as their family, co-workers, community, city, state, country, and world.
Wearing a health mask aids in this pursuit of wellness for all. So, at the risk of being too bossy, “JUST WEAR A MASK.”
Or, find some other way to cover your mouth and nose that works for you. Wear a helmet, a face shield, gasmask, whatever suits you. Please find a way to cover your mouth and nose when in public consistently. It will help keep you and others in your community safer.
It is just that simple.