Masks – What’s the big deal?

By Dr. Paul Schwartz, M.D. and elder, Estes Church of Christ

Our trash tells on us!

Did you ever notice that litter on the highway tells something about what’s going on?

A chunk of sheet rock wall board?  There is remodeling or construction somewhere.
Beer cans?  Usually more after a long weekend.
Take out wrappers and cups?  Majority are McDonald’s.
Black rubber tiedowns? Lots of truck traffic.
Styrofoam coolers?  Must be fishing weather.
Bible?  Someone left one on the roof while buckling up the kids.
IPad?  OOPS!  See previous line.
Surgical masks?  That’s a new one for me!  I found two on the Estes church building right of way this week.

What does it mean? We’re meeting together again!

And that brings me to the point of this article: Face masks.

Wearing them is uncomfortable!  It’s claustrophobic.  It’s hot.  My breath stinks.  I have trouble recognizing other people when they wear masks.  I have pretty bad hearing loss and it’s much harder to understand conversation when I can’t see your lips moving.  I forget to put mine on when I get out of the car to go to Lowe’s or Home Depot for some “essential” purchase. There are lots of understandable reasons not to bother to wear one.  I used to think it looked funny (I still do) to see pictures of Chinese people wearing masks during flu outbreaks.  That’s just not us!  We are tougher and not as fearful of a silly little virus we can’t even see?

So why bother?  Why discuss it?  Why do blowhards like me keep harping on it?  Harping on it. . . . . .

By the way, I have a cute, smart granddaughter, 7 years old, whose name is Harper.  To look at her you would think she is a healthy, normal, precocious 2nd grader.  And in many ways she is. . .  except for one little problem:  she was born lacking one silly little enzyme (chemical in her body) that is needed to handle sodium excretion in her sweat glands and mucous in her lungs and enzymes that digest food.  She takes a hand full of enzyme capsules with every meal or she would starve to death. She drinks her milk with salt added.  She undergoes over an hour of lung therapy twice a day to clear lung mucous.  She has already had two sinus surgeries and her appendix out.  Because her lungs can’t clear out trash and infection, she is at very high risk of dying if she gets lung infections like flu, pneumonia and Covid-19.

Diabetics, people over 60, heart disease, kidney failure . . .  the list is quite long . . . of friends and family who are at risk of a bad outcome– if they get a full-blown infection of this crummy virus that’s going around.   But you don’t have to be in the high-risk category to get really sick and end up on a respirator for a week or 6 or 10.

Our first case of Covid-19 in Chester county was a young healthy educator.

Like Yogi Berra said about the baseball pennant race, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

We are in a bubble in rural West Tennessee.  We have only had 12 cases identified in Chester County and that number has not changed in several weeks.  The rural counties with high numbers are either big city suburbs or have large prison populations.

What is the big deal?

Here is the problem.  This pandemic ain’t over yet. . . not by a long shot.  (I pray I’m wrong, but all my career and study and reading says I’m not.)  We do not have any great effective drugs to stop the infection from progressing if you are infected.  There are 12 people in Chester County that are likely (not for sure) at least partially and temporarily immune to this infection.  That means the rest of us are not immune and may be carriers or will get sick.  So, we just have to wait our turn. Que Sera, Sera. Whatever happens will happen.  Can’t change fate.  You are either doomed or not.

We are not helpless to protect ourselves and our loved ones.  We can slow and essentially stop the spread of this infection. Frequent hand washing and sanitizers do work.  Maintaining distances is no fun, but it works. We know that wearing face masks helps control the spread of the virus in our cough, sneeze, speak and sing droplets.

No one wants to make personal, uncomfortable things mandatory, but we do it all the time.  We all complain about seat belt and cell phone laws, but we know these laws save lives—they work better if we all comply with these laws.  I would never have been allowed to continue in medical school if I had refused to wear a mask and gloves and sterile gown in surgery.  I don’t think any of us would patronize a surgeon who refused to wash his hands or wear a surgical mask.  It becomes second nature when you use one regularly—just like wearing a seat belt.  (BTW seat belts protect other passengers, not just the wearer.)

Are the interventions perfect?  Of course not, but they definitely help.

I will be wearing a mask when we meet for worship—to protect Harper, you, and myself. I will remove it only when we observe the Lord’s Supper.  I may have to take my glasses off when they fog up, but the mask stays on.  If you see me in public without it, please remind me.  Harper and I would appreciate it if you wore one, too.

If you lost your mask in the parking lot, there are more available when you enter the building.
(And no, we are not making it mandatory.)

P.S.  Don’t throw used masks out the window.
And wash your hands.
And use the sanitizer that’s provided.