The other day, I was at a hardware store and someone in the return line in front of me said he didn’t know anybody who had COVID-19 or anybody who had died. When the man finished his transaction, he moved toward me and, as I backed away, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m OK.” First of all, I am worried. Second, I don’t know if you are OK.
Please give me three minutes to explain myself. Less than six months ago, nobody in the world knew anybody who had COVID-19. Three months ago, nobody in the U.S. knew anybody in the U.S. who had it. Now, the U.S. has more than 1.7 million diagnosed cases and 100,000 deaths. There probably are more people who were not diagnosed due to a lack of tests, or requests to be tested.
The death toll is impressive since that figure is higher than the number of U.S. citizens who perished during the 21 years we fought in Vietnam. It now exceeds the number of U.S. personnel who died in Vietnam, both Iraq wars, Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks. Yes, I know people who have contracted and died from COVID-19, and individuals who served and died in Vietnam. Even though you don’t know anyone who died, that doesn’t mean that this pandemic or that war didn’t exist.
Other countries have done an exemplary job of containing viral transmission. In Iceland, they have not had a single case in weeks. Yes, it is a small island that can isolate itself, but they have used appropriate testing and tracking.
You don’t want anyone to track you? The truth of the matter is, if you own a cellphone, your provider, internet service and many apps track you. You probably gave some of them permission to have access to your email, contacts, phone and files. Tracking is not to follow you, but to alert other people who might have come in contact with you if you were infected.
Other countries also have used testing, isolation and masks. As of Thursday morning, places like Hong Kong (population: 7.5 million) had fewer cases (1,067) and deaths (four), than my own county of Henrico. This was accomplished without stopping normal activity. South Korea (population: 51 million) basically has suppressed the spread and transmission of COVID-19 (11,344 cases, 269 deaths). The important distinction was wearing masks, and two weeks of isolation for anybody who had the virus, or came in contact with someone else who did.
I am a surgeon. When I perform surgery, I wear a mask, head and shoe coverings, clean scrubs and a gown. The other people in the operating room also are required to wear similar garb. If one of the tables holding instruments accidentally is touched, the instruments have to be resterilized.
Imagine entering the operating room for a procedure, and there I am in my street clothes, saying, “Don’t worry, I’m OK. I’m sure the other people in the room are OK.” I don’t think you would continue to use my services. People on the front lines such as respiratory therapists, nurses, aides, techs and doctors who are seeing known or suspected COVID-19 patients, are wearing personal protective equipment to minimize their chance of contracting the disease. But when I wear a mask, scrubs and a gown to perform surgery, I am doing it for your protection, not mine.
The high number of cases in this country could have been suppressed and reduced with appropriate testing, tracking, isolation and masks. We would not have had to endure more extreme measures if these simple procedures had been followed. Although it might be inconvenient to wear a mask, it shows that you are considerate of the health and welfare of your friends, relatives, co-workers and strangers. It would be easier to wear a mask for several weeks than to have the economy shut down for multiple months.
Although it might affect other organ systems such as the heart or kidneys, the coronavirus usually resides in and affects the respiratory system. Therefore, it can be spread by talking and breathing, although laughing, singing, coughing and sneezing will further expel the viral particles. No one is asking that you give up your freedom, but rather, we’re requesting that you join the fight in suppressing the transmission of this virus simply by wearing a mask.
Be considerate, be smart, be kind, be thoughtful and you as an individual and we as a nation can combat this together, instead of being at odds and having this pandemic linger on for months.