Winter is on the horizon and already the specter of another viral resurgence looms before us. Dr. Anthony Fauci is already warning of a “difficult situation,” as the number of infected people in the United States has started trending upward again. Significant numbers of states are currently reporting more than 3% of corona virus tests returning positive.
This trend concerns me. It concerns me because I have seen first-hand the worst cases of COVID-19. I have cared for COVID patients whose last days were spent struggling to breathe on mechanical ventilators. I have tended to patients whose lungs were so compromised that they were only kept alive by having their blood continuously removed from their body, oxygenated by a machine, and then pumped back into them.
I have listened to the heartbroken cries of family members who were unable to be physically present as their loved one drew their last breath. Nobody should have to watch their family member die over Zoom.
This trend saddens me. It saddens me because it makes me question the altruism and compassion of my fellow citizens. We know that there are simple measures that can be taken to mitigate the spread of this virus. Yet, even knowing this, and knowing the devastation this virus will continue to wreak amongst our most vulnerable, people still balk at being asked to do something as simple as wearing a mask.
It is essential to acknowledge that wearing a mask is generally considered to be the most effective way to prevent transmission of the virus. COVID-19 is known to most readily spread through respiratory droplets similarly to the way influenza spreads. There is an abundance of data showing that mask wearing is an effective means to limit the spread of respiratory viruses.
Specific to COVID-19, a meta-analysis of literature published in the Lancet this year found that facemask use was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of infection from COVID-19. New emerging data currently pending peer review and publication also strongly supports the efficacy of mask wearing. This data has shown that mask wearing by the public is independently associated with decreased per-capita mortality from COVID-19 when controlled for other potentially confounding variables.
So why then is there such a backlash against simply wearing a mask in public? Here in the United States we have a long history of conflict surrounding the notion of needing to preserve individual rights at the expense of the public health.
In 1901 a smallpox epidemic saw many individuals protesting, and legally challenging the state’s mandatory vaccination law. These challenges lead to a landmark ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Jacobson versus Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This case established the government’s right to use its authority to control epidemic disease and also affirmed the right of the people to enact public measures for the protection of the common good through their elected representatives. The current exploitation of the crisis for political gain has certainly not helped the situation. What should have been a simple public health issue has now become politicized and polarizing.
Ultimately we need to look beyond the politics and noise. We need to put the needs of our most vulnerable above personal desires to not be inconvenienced. Wearing a mask is not simply just a public health mandate, it is a patriotic duty.
To date, COVID-19 has killed more than 228,000 of our fellow citizens. To put this into perspective, this is more than four times the entire number of U.S. service members killed in battle during the Vietnam War, all dead within a single year.
It is incumbent upon all of us not to allow the deaths of our countrymen to become trivialized. This virus has shown itself to be an existential threat to our nation, our way of life and it must be stopped. We must all be in this fight together. This war will not to be won through grand acts of bravery. This is a war that will be fought and won through small acts preformed consistently and reliably by us all.
Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Socially distance. Look out for each other. Stay safe.
Ben Ways lives in Enfield.