LONG SPOONS AND FACE MASKS
It is hard to comprehend the damage done by COVID-19 since its emergence in late 2019. The number of deaths from COVID-19 globally is over 900,000 and the number of infections almost 30 million with no foreseeable end in sight. And our only known defense is that as individuals, we commit to protecting others.
Survival by cooperation is part of the folklore in many cultures. https://bit.ly/3itNmX7 In its various forms, people are given spoons with handles so long they cannot feed themselves and learn that they must feed each other in order to survive.
Apparently we haven’t learned the lesson.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the only weapons we have; hand washing, social distancing and face masks, are unevenly applied at best.
Social distancing is inconvenient and lonely, and as evidenced by the crowds on beaches, rallies and conventions, many do not believe it’s important in spite of the spike in COVID rates that inevitably follows. Face masks are uncomfortable, hot, and some say, an infringement of rights. “Besides,” the argument goes, “face masks only protect others, not me. I don’t have it, and neither do my friends!”
There is a lesson from the introduction of seatbelts in the fifties and sixties. When they were introduced, many people refused to wear them in spite of overwhelming evidence that they saved lives, even after they were required by law, insisting they were restrictive, uncomfortable and unnecessary. In retrospect, this seems almost laughable. But the refusal to wear face masks and observe social distancing is no laughing matter. It’s reckless.
If I choose not to wear a seatbelt, my life is the only one at risk. But I can unknowingly carry the virus for a variety of reasons. So if I choose not to wear a mask, wash my hands or practice social distancing, I risk infecting everyone with whom I come in contact. And the virus quickly spreads through the community. https://bit.ly/3hCWKpW
But all this requires that I trust you to protect me, something over which I have no control. “So,” some argue, “why not just go about my life and wait for herd immunity. After all, if I get, it probably won’t be all that bad, and we’ll all be done with it in a few months.“
If only that could work. Unfortunately, that ship sailed.
Herd immunity occurs when enough individuals in a population have become immune to a disease to significantly decrease the risk of spreading it to others. However, almost 30 million people worldwide have now been diagnosed with COVID 19 and over 900,000 have died. If no preventive measures are taken, the infected people will infect the others and
https://bit.ly/2E5Uk5C the disease will spread rapidly though the population. Ultimately the majority of the worldwide population will become infected, and millions will die. Moreover, even if a vaccine becomes available, many will refuse It. The combined results of unprotected exposure to the virus would be a catastrophic blow to worldwide medical systems and economies. Thankfully, we have the means at our disposal to prevent this.
But who can you trust? You can hear almost any point of view you like by choosing your channel. No wonder so many of us have turned off the news and given up on social media. The media serve a purpose but for scientific reliability, we have to trust the scientists.
Many looking to scientists for outcome predictions or black and white answers are disappointed when scientists can’t provide them. Responsible scientists will not provide pat answers because science is hypothesis driven. Science can only prove what is not correct, not what is https://bit.ly/3iE8mKH The research process is iterative; it doesn’t follow a straight line. When we think about it, we apply the scientific method every day. For example, when I lose my keys, I find them by looking in the places they are not. I take a lot of time looking in a lot of wrong places before the lost is found.
Development of safe and effective vaccines and treatments for COVID is especially complex due to our lack of knowledge about this group of viruses. It takes time to build enough evidence to bring about effective treatments. Consider that decades were required to produce the cancer treatments we now consider routine.
In the case of COVID 19, the journey has only begun. We’re all in uncharted waters. Together.
2 thoughts on “LONG SPOONS AND FACE MASKS”
Hi, Louise—Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
For the record, I am an Internist. I saw patients in a large healthcare system for about 20 years and I am now an executive with this system. It is from this experience that I speak.
I love the analogy to seat belts. I remember when that law came about and people were outraged about their rights being infringed upon. I would argue that wearing your seatbelt isn’t just for you. If you have a bad accident and don’t die (which is more likely if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt than if you are), you are costing society because all of us will pay if you are insured, not insured or on Medicare or whatever.
As much as everyone wants to ignore that resources in the healthcare budget are finite or fungible, they are. If you use up money for your spinal cord injury because you didn’t wear a seatbelt, there are fewer people that can get their problems paid for—Unless we raise taxes (Medicare) or insurance companies raise rates.
As in all of medicine, we look at the risks of treatment compared to the returns. There are huge returns on mask-wearing for society and there are NO significant risks. There are many, many people in the world that have been wearing masks day in and day out for their jobs and they do not have more infections or asthma.
There are probably also benefits for the wearer of the masks that were not previously appreciated. Last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, there was an article about “variolation” and the evidence that mask wearing has caused exposure to low virus loads and produced more mild disease and more widespread immunity in the wearers of masks. The word “variolation” comes from a time when vaccination against smallpox (AKA variola) involved scratching small amounts of virus into the skin to induce mild disease.
Smallpox, incidentally, no longer exists…..you know why? Because people got vaccinated. Public health measures have saved more lives than any medical advance ever has.
Thanks for taking up the charge!
Monette, Really enjoyed your excellent and specialized essay re mask wearing, etc. Thought your comparing criticism of the wearing of seat belts was good. When an automobile accident occurs in or close to my small town of Kilmarnock, VA, it is always reported if the driver was wearing a seatbelt whether someone was killed or not. Seatbelts are now a recognized must before driving. The “infringement of my rights” argument was used years ago for motorcycle/bicycle helmets as well. We now see more riders wearing them. They save lives! Keep writing! Your expertise as a scientist is needed. Love, Janice