By Russ Herring, DNP, FNP-BC, CSCS
It isn’t about you.
I think one of the most important things that we, the medical community, are failing to impress upon society, is that it isn’t about you. We’ve beaten the horse, ad nauseam, that wearing masks can help protect you from COVID-19. To this, many have answered, “it is my choice”.
This is where we’ve failed you.
The masks aren’t about you and your freedoms or your health (not entirely, anyway). The masks aren’t actually about protecting the wearer from COVID-19. Wearing a mask provides some protection to the person in the mask, but looking at the available research, wearing a mask does less to protect you than it does to protect others FROM you (Bai, 2020). COVID-19 has demonstrated asymptomatic transmission many, many times by this point in the pandemic. Transmissible viral load peaks just prior to the onset of symptoms – whether you do, or do not ultimately fall ill (Bai, 2020).
Wearing masks isn’t about you, it’s about your loved ones and the rest of society.
In the case of two hair stylists in Missouri, who it was later found were working with active COVID-19 infections, were found to have caused no secondary infections (Hendrix, Walde, Findley and Trotman, 2020). This was attributed to a universal mask policy at the salon. The masks did exactly as they were supposed to, prevented transmission from the individual with the infection to others. 139 customers were followed for the presence of transmitted illness, with not a single positive case (Hendrix, Walde, Findley and Trotman, 2020).
I have to admit, working through the tail end of cold and flu season with a universal mask mandate was a bit of a relief. For some reason, people don’t come to the doctor to talk about how great they’re feeling during cold and flu season. We don’t mask, routinely, and most of us catch at least a minor cold each winter, if not the actual flu. The universal mask mandate within the healthcare establishment squashed that phenomena outright. I enjoy seeing my patient’s faces, but the masks shut the cold and flu season down, almost overnight.
Yet COVID persisted.
To put in plainly, it really is a particularly nasty bug. The United States, and the world at large, have been far from business as usual, for most of 2020. We shut the flu season down, but COVID persevered and spread. It continues to do so. More steps must be taken.
I fully accept that modern society isn’t well constructed to just shut down, I get that. That said, we can’t throw our hands in the air and announce that business must go on, and we’re going to take zero steps to ensure the process happens as safely as possible. If business must go on, we must do so as safely as possible. If that means wearing masks at the gym, or wherever, I’ll wear the mask if that’s the price of admission.
Guidance has changed throughout the course of this event. The back and forth, the seeming imprecision has some people frustrated. I get that, too. I understand the frustration.
It is the scientific process in action.
We take steps to be as safe as possible, and as more information becomes available, the rules change. We didn’t arrive at E=mc^2 overnight. The first apple missed Newton’s head. Pasteur threw out the first sample of mold.
We didn’t know, immediately, how much COVID was actually in the background population because we didn’t know how many people were carrying it, without illness or symptoms. At this point, the United States has conducted millions of tests on those without detectable COVID-19, as well as having diagnosed millions of additional cases – 3,563,848 as of this writing (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html, 2020). Having realized how many cases may actually be walking around amongst those who – yes, will be just fine, while transmitting it to those who will not, mask mandates arose (Bai, 2020).
I don’t wear a mask at work to protect myself from my patients, I get sick every year, and it’s annoying, but I feel as though we have a more personal interaction if we can actually see each other’s faces. I wear a mask at work to protect my patients from ME. I’ve been in the room with numerous COVID-19 positive patients by this point in the event. I haven’t had symptoms, and I haven’t been tested.
I wear the mask because I just don’t know.
You should wear the mask because you don’t know.
Wearing a mask, any kind of mask – protects our neighbors and our loved ones from the things we may not know about ourselves. Unless you are tested DAILY, then you can’t say with certainty that you are free of infection, even as you read these words. Even a cloth mask, which some have been quick to point out does not provide an overly effective filter for extremely small particles – even a cloth mask catches some virus. Like tumbleweeds caught in a fence, some get through, but not all. Infectious diseases have what’s called an “infectious dose”. If your simple cloth mask catches enough tumbleweeds, you may prevent your friends and loved ones from receiving an infectious dose of COVID-19 virus.
It isn’t about your safety. It is about the safety of those you love, and the fact that none of us can know, minute-to-minute, day-to-day, that we aren’t carrying the mechanism of their demise. The entirety of the mask “debate” is asking you to love your neighbors as yourself. The masks are about caring for each other, and through caring for each other, perhaps effecting our own salvation.
About Russell Herring, DNP, FNP-BC, CSCS
Russell R. Herring, DNP, joined the Great Falls Clinic in 2018 and is among the newer healthcare providers in the State of Montana. He works alongside Drs. David Engbrecht and Dr. Carey Welsh in Family Medicine at the Great Falls Clinic Northwest location. Russell specializes in diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic healthcare and treatment plans for acute and chronic illness, and in education and guidance of patients regarding disease prevention and health promotion. He is currently accepting new patients at the Northwest Clinic, 1600 Division Road, Great Falls. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 406-268-1600.
Bai, Nina. Still confused about masks? Here’s the science behind how face masks prevent coronavirus. June 26, 2020 from: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/06/417906/still-confused-about-masks-heres-science-behind-how-face-masks-prevent
Hendrix M.J., Walde, C., Findley, K., Trotman, R. Absence of apparent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from two stylists after exposure after exposure at a hair salon with a universal face covering policy – Springfield, Missouri, May, 2020. July 14, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6928e2.htm
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Coronavirus Resource Center. July 16, 2020 from: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html