//Masks for Dummies VIII

Masks for Dummies VIII

By I. smiley G. Calderón | smileygcalderon@gmail.com

Last month, the big and unexpected news was that, at the height of our deadly coronavirus pandemic, Governor Newsom suddenly rescinded California’s Stay-At-Home Orders. In doing so, reverting counties back to the colored tier system of Covid community risk. He said it was because of the progress we have made. “…we can lay claim to starting to see some real light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to case numbers,” he said on the last Monday of the month. “Each region’s a little bit different, but we are in a position projecting four weeks forward with a significant decline in the case rates, positivity rates. We are anticipating…still more decline in hospitalizations and more declines in ICU, and that’s why we’re lifting that stay at home effective immediately…”

It was a shocker, for sure. 

That’s because things have seemed to worsen. Last month, I couldn’t believe we had passed the grim milestone of 350,000 dead Americans. Still, only a month later, we have already exceeded 441,000 Covid deaths. And, last month here in Fresno, we had 711 total Covid fatalities. Now, we have 1137 – a 60% increase! Clearly, things have not gotten better.

Is this really the right time for California to ease up its coronavirus restrictions?

Some think it was a political move just in time to counter recent momentum to recall the governor. California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson tweeted: “This Governor’s decisions have never been based on science. Him re-opening our state is not an attempt to help working Californians but rather an attempt to counter the Recall Movement. It’s sad and pathetic.” Still, others are not sure.

Frontline healthcare workers like UCLA nurse Marcia Santini, a Covid survivor herself, can’t help but ask, “Have we not learned anything?” In this battle against Covid, she knows we can’t relax or relent until this pandemic subsides. She offers the perfect analogy: “A fireman doesn’t put out half a fire and hope the rest goes out on its own. Our numbers will shoot back up again, and we’ll just keep infecting each other.” Because, as far as public health emergencies go, right now, we are still in the midst of a raging inferno here in California.

Governor Newsom’s sudden change, of course, even amazed legislators. State senator Lena Gonzalez tweeted after hearing the announcement: “This new executive order is surprising…” But, it is also very concerning – something she made abundantly clear: “My quintessential question: How are low-income communities of color and essential workers being impacted by this order? Why do I have to keep asking this question?”

Without a fully implemented vaccine program, many essential worker communities are left more vulnerable when public health measures are relaxed. And, with the recent news of newly mutated and potentially more contagious and lethal Covid strains and variants on the horizon, things will likely become even more dire and deadly. Experts are likening the coming next wave to a ‘hurricane.’ 

Leading epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota, says, “That hurricane is coming… we’re going to see something like we have not yet seen in this country…I see that hurricane Category 5, 450 miles offshore…”

So, we know it’s coming. (And no, we don’t have any time for any Covid denying conspiracy theorists anymore.) In fact, it’s already here. How do we prepare – what do we do? Well, at a national and community level, we need to continue to expedite the vaccine rollout, promote life-saving Covid plasma donation from those who have successfully recovered. We also need to ensure that PPE (personal protective equipment) production is adequate for everyone to benefit from.  

We need N95 (or similar, e.g., KN95, KF94, etc.) masks available to our heroic healthcare workers and other first-line responders and essential workers. It would be great if affordable N95-type masks were made available to the general public, as well. This is because we know how effective and life-saving these types of ‘respirators’ are in filtering out tiny viral particles and particulate matter. 

These respirator-masks protect the user from his environment. Your regular, everyday cloth and fabric masks only help keep your own respiratory droplets trapped under your mask. That is, cloth masks don’t protect you from your environment – instead, they protect your environment from you. They help keep your germs on your person, under your mask, and not in the open air.

Sure, any mask is better than none. Suppose everyone simply wore their cloth mask correctly and fully covered up their mouth and nose. In that case, we could all squash this coronavirus in no time. This is because, in theory, everyone’s ‘coronavirus germs’ would stay under their mask, limiting transmission. However, once the virus is in the air – your cloth mask can’t filter it out. You see, viruses and particulate matter breeze right through the spacious microscopic holes of everyday masks. Yes, ordinary masks can stop your respiratory droplets containing germs, like the coronavirus – from leaving your mouth. Still, they can’t prevent you from inhaling or exhaling aerosols. Unfortunately, we know that the coronavirus can be spread through the air as an airborne aerosol.  

So, this is why N95-type masks are crucial, especially right now with these new highly contagious Covid strains on the loose. It would be a good idea to get some online if you can. Or, as I mentioned before, pick some up locally if you can find them. Personally, I’ve seen KN-95s sold at all the Smart & Finals throughout Fresno. These respirator-masks are affordable, and they are definitely worth the few dollars they’re going for. In my mind, they are essential.

Don’t be a dummy and make no mistake about it: despite the governor’s current rosy “real light at the end of the tunnel” outlook, now is the time more than ever to ‘mask-up’ and prepare yourself and your family for the coming ‘hurricane.’