//Masks for Dummies XVI

Masks for Dummies XVI

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

Dear reader, as the holidays usher in this special time of the year, let us not forget those taken into emergency rooms and intensive care units. Unfortunately, Covid continues to persist and terrorize our communities.  

Yes, it’s still around – that horrible, relentless disease once in the forefront of everyone’s nightmares, haunting every major headline for the past couple of years.  And, even though Covid has primarily been dismissed to the sidelines of our recent, fatigued social memory, it’s still very much causing destruction and disruption everywhere.

For example, here in Fresno County, we have had a total of 2,131 Covid deaths. Last month at this time, we were at 1,964. That’s 167 people suddenly gone – people who would have otherwise been here to make their holiday plans just like you, with you. Last month, we had a running total of 128,450 positive cases. Now, that number is 136,901. Right now, there are over 300 people currently hospitalized in Fresno County because of Covid.

It’s still very dreadfully real.

And the country as a whole is not doing any better, either. In the past month, the U.S. has experienced 2,266,815 new Covid cases and has had 43,456 new deaths. That’s about a 2% mortality rate. These past 30 days have been bad. In total, we have lost over 746,000 dear Americans to this awful disease. And, sadly, the carnage is not over yet – the data clearly shows this, unfortunately.

Yet, if you spend time anywhere in town, you’ll get the feeling that Covid is a thing of the past.  More and more, you see less mask-wearing in public and overall less concern for the pandemic.  The state of California still has mask rules in effect, however.  According to California’s Covid Current Safety Measures webpage, “Masks are required for unvaccinated people and recommended for everyone in indoor public places.” These places include indoor retail stores and restaurants, theaters, and state and local government offices that work with the public.  But, how do these places know if the mask-less people entering their doors are actually vaccinated? Well, they don’t. If you’re not wearing a mask, these businesses and offices just presume you are vaccinated. Imagine if we took that approach with STDs! If your partner isn’t wearing a condom, that ‘must’ only mean that he’s AIDS-free, right? Not too smart.

Thankfully, a Covid vaccination provides safe and robust protection against SARS-CoV-2. Still, breakthrough infections do happen (Covid infections in previously vaccinated people). And their occurrence is normal – since vaccinations are not 100% effective. Yet, they still provide excellent protection against severe Covid sickness and death. But, who is the driving force behind these breakthrough infections anyway? You guessed it – the unvaccinated and unmasked. They’re the ones spreading Covid to everyone – including the (unmasked) vaccinated.

But, those who aren’t vaccinated right now, they’re like sitting ducks. The coronavirus has only gotten faster, stronger, and more efficient since it emerged some two years ago. And it’s hunting for openly available hosts to infect and wreak its havoc upon. And so, if you’re not protected by diligent and proper mask-wearing or by vaccination, you’re very vulnerable right now and should be concerned. You don’t want to be added to next month’s Covid statistics (but, if you’re not protected, you might be). A few weeks is a lifetime when Covid comes knocking at your door.

This danger is why California still requires masks to be worn by everyone – vaccinated or unvaccinated – in indoor places like senior care facilities, correctional and detention centers, K-12 schools, homeless and emergency shelters, healthcare settings, and on public transit.  Simply put, Californians can’t trust their fellow Californians to be vaccinated and Covid-free. So, protection must be worn in public places to ensure everyone’s safety. This precaution shouldn’t make you mad – even if you’re vaccinated. Instead, you should appreciate the extra protection.

You don’t want to go through what Covid survivor Richard Soliz went through these past few months.  After humbly returning to the Seattle hospital that fought for his life for 28 days, he recently made the news to thank the staff for saving him.  

“Fighting for life over a vaccine – I deeply regret not making the decision to get vaccinated…I could have easily died at any moment…I need to breathe, and I can’t breathe – [was] a very, very scary feeling,” he admitted. “There’s still a lot of people out there that feel the way I was feeling and just nonchalantly thinking, okay, I’ll take my chances,” Soliz insisted. “Well, you can take your chances, but you’re not guaranteed you’ll come out of it … Please go get vaccinated because this virus is real,” he pleaded to anyone who would listen. “Real enough to take someone’s life or put you in the ICU…”

Soliz recalled being admitted to the hospital and remembered the staff asking if he was vaccinated or not. He felt embarrassed to say no after recognizing how sick he was and how dangerous his condition quickly became. And, he poignantly realized that most people sick in the ICU with Covid were unvaccinated – just like him. He felt incredibly dumb to think that he could have avoided this entire Covid ordeal if he had only taken heed and gotten vaccinated.

As you may or may not know, once you contract Covid and get sick, it’s too late for any vaccine to help your condition. It’s strictly a preventative measure, not a cure. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent severe Covid illness and death. It does not necessarily prevent infection.  Yet, it may allow your body to effectively fight off infection so that it does not develop into sickness or result in death. On the other hand, effective mask-wearing may prevent infection and spread since it physically obstructs the coronavirus from entering the body.

Bottom line, dear reader: to protect your life, get vaccinated. To protect yourself and others from getting sick, wear your mask. Both are important. Both save lives. 

Vaccinated mask wearers are modern-day heroes.  Be one today.

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I. smiley G. Calderón is a Gen X Chicano and lifelong educator who spent a career in academia in Southern California, but is most proud of being a father.