COVID-19 is raging worse than ever! As of today, December 1, 2020, the global deaths are 1,474,643. We in the USA have surpassed a quarter of a million people dying from COVID-19, and the worst is yet to come over a long terrible winter. Studying the Johns Hopkins statistics does not show that any country has the answer to the pandemic,. Although Europe is coming down off their peak, presumably due to strictly enforced public health measures. The vaccine of three companies is just around the corner, with the first batch of 6.4 million doses to be delivered as our Christmas present from Pfizer. The vaccine is our only hope, as we can’t seem to follow the public health measures that the science says will at least curb the virus’s ability to spread. Despite all the warnings, this Thanksgiving saw more travel and large group gatherings that served to spread the virus, and cause the spike in the case numbers which we are witnessing.
We have politicized the virus. It has become a sign of freedom and resistance to tyranny that wants to take away our God-given rights not to wear masks, and to ignore public health advice to avoid crowds. The Supreme Court has struck down regulations to prevent gatherings for religious purposes. Although I must admit, it seems rather arbitrary to allow strip joints to stay open and close churches. It has also not been helpful to have our leaders violate their own edicts, such as going to hairdressers when those establishments were supposed to be closed, or attend large group dinners at swank gourmet restaurants when only outdoor dining was allowed, or fail to wear masks when present in large gatherings. It makes you think they don’t really believe it either.
The initial response in March was full of mixed messages – wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, stay 3 feet apart or is it 6 feet or 15 feet? We have learned a lot, but not everything, in the last ten months, and now the message is much clearer, backed by good science that has shown wearing masks does a good job of keeping the virus from spreading from an infected person. However, masks do not seem to be as effective in keeping the virus from spreading to a non-infected person. The most recent study was the Danish study of 6000 subjects, which showed a 20% decrease in infection risk in mask users. The masks, however, do keep an infected person from spreading the virus. Additionally, several anecdotal events have shown that to be so. Two hairstylists who both had COVID-19 did not transmit their virus to a single person of their 139 clients that patronized their business. Both had dutifully worn masks during their encounters with customers. Although no double-blinded controlled studies have been done, it seems fairly certain that masks are protective in keeping the virus confined to the infected person, but protects the non-infected person to a lesser extent but still not insignificant. No one knows if they are free of the virus or asymptomatic carriers, even if they have a negative PCR the day before. To assume that you are not dangerous to others is not only impolite and selfish, but potentially threatening to others just like carrying a loaded gun and pointing it at passer-bys.
We owe the face mask to a French surgeon, Paul Berger, who in 1899 decided not wearing a mask during the conduct of an operation exposed the wound to the potential of contamination from the mouths and noses of the people that were conducting the operation by just breathing. He concluded that it was not good to spray saliva into open wounds. That is essentially what happens when the surgeons do not wear face coverings. And it is what we do by just breathing. Loud speaking, coughing, sneezing and singing increases the droplets we expel. The surgical community did not accept his idea, and laughed at him. Later, one of the smartest and most famous surgeons of the time, Jan Mikulicz, came to his defense with a publication that changed the minds of the surgical world. From then on, all surgeons all over the world wear masks during the conduct of any operation. No matter what you think of masks, would you be put off by the surgeon who refuses to wear a mask for your operation? Besides, the downside of mask use is non-existent except for convenience.
It does not appear that we have the ability or mindset to successfully combat the virus with public health measures alone, regardless of whether we have a national plan or not. We will have to rely on the vaccine.
It was Edward Jenner in 1768 that gave us the idea of vaccination. It was he that named it that, vaccine, (from “vacca” the Latin for cow) after he used pus scraped from the hands of a milkmaid which she had contracted by milking infected cows that gave milkmaids a mild disease called Cowpox. But once they had it, they were immune to one of the most vicious virus killers of all times, Smallpox. Smallpox has killed more people than all the epidemics and all the wars combined, starting around the time we started to change from hunter-gatherer societies into closer-knit agriculture-based settlements 12,000 years ago. The first historically recorded epidemic was the Antonine Plague at the height of the Roman Empire that killed at least 5,000,000—for which most scholars credit Smallpox. Jenner likely has saved more lives than any other human being in history.
But it is still many months before enough people are vaccinated that we will finally attain “herd immunity.”
There will be people who are afraid to get vaccinated, such as the anti-vaxxers. Also, others for political implications, do not want to take the “Trump vaccine.” That in addition to the huge volume of vaccine that will be necessary for millions of people to get two doses three weeks apart. This will slow down the battle against containing the virus. Until then, we need to do all we can to keep the virus from killing more people, and I am afraid that includes masks and social distancing regardless of constitutional issues. How to convince the majority of this is the trick. Trump should bite the bullet and wear a mask. After all, 73 million people voted for him, and he still commands a large following. He needs to set an example. There are others who could be recruited to set the standard. These would be the leaders of our society, such as movie stars George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, for example, and including respected media icons, such as Sean Hannity and Anderson Cooper with politicians both on the right and the left including AOC, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, business leaders such as Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and many more who could change people’s minds, and do what all surgeons have been doing for 120 years with no visible ill effects. A media campaign with prominent people of various persuasions, politics, and backgrounds would help to de-politicize mask-wearing and do wonders, even save a few lives!