//Masks for Dummies pt. II

Masks for Dummies pt. II

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

Welcome back. And the numbers are out of control…  

Health experts everywhere are telling people to brace themselves for a tough and deadly summer because of COVID-19. Fresno County’s top health official, Dr. Rais Vohra, had this to say recently: “I think July is going to be very tragic in terms of the number of hospitalizations and the number of fatalities that we see as a result of COVID-19 – just given the fact that we’ve seen such an uptick in the number of total positive swab results that we’ve gotten.” And Dr. Vohra was careful to explain to residents how actual coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths usually trail infection about 2 weeks. This is why he somberly admitted: “This last week of having increasing case counts gives me a lot of indigestion going into the rest of the summer.”

Here’ some perspective for the doubters: Last article – only a month ago – Fresno County had only 1,743 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths. Now, as of the 4th of July, there are 6,110 cases and 77 deaths. That’s a 251% increase in cases and a 120% jump in deaths here in Fresno in just 30 days!

As I wrote about last time, SARS-CoV-2, the deadly virus that causes COVID-19, is highly contagious. It’s so efficient and stealth at infecting people that it does it without them even knowing it. In fact, recently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) revealed that their data shows for every 1 confirmed positive coronavirus case, there are many more unconfirmed, positive cases out in public. 

Director Robert Redfield explained, “Our best estimate right now is that for every case that we’ve recorded, there actually were 10 other infections.” 

That would mean that there are probably more than 20 million infected Americans today – at least 5% of our nation. But, this also means that there are hundreds of millions more who are vulnerable, still at risk for infection and possible adverse COVID-19 outcomes.

Now the obvious way to slow down infections is pretty simple: it’s wearing a mask.

Stephen Colbert

As you already know (I hope): in addition to frequent washing and sanitizing your hands, and practicing social distancing when out in public, wearing a face-covering is essential. It is the best thing you can do to keep from spreading or catching this disease when you are around people you don’t live with. Everyone knows this – right?  

Even comedians understand this. And it’s no laughing matter.

Late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert cuts to the chase, “Now the obvious way to slow down infections is pretty simple: it’s wearing a mask.” 

Yet, there are still people out there who refuse to put one on – and it has nothing to do with science. Colbert concedes, “But, unfortunately, putting a piece of cloth on your face has become a culture war, thanks almost entirely to our president.”

While our health care officials plead with the public to protect themselves and others by wearing face masks during this pandemic, our president downplays their effectiveness and undermines the effort. “Masks are a double-edge sword because people’ touch them’ and ‘grab them,’” President Trump asserts while himself refusing to don one.

But not all of his supporters are happy with the president about this anti-mask message.

Senior Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander expressed his frustration and disappointment in a recent interview: “Well, I wish the president would wear a mask… Millions of Americans admire him, and they would follow his lead…it would help contain the disease.”

And this is true, unfortunately. When people don’t see our nation’s leader taking precautions, it sends the wrong message. Leaders lead by their actions (not their inaction), and people are taking note. Like this young maskless Alabama beachgoer who confidently explains how President Trump’s refusal to wear a mask means he’s not going to wear one either. “I mean, if he’s not wearing a mask, I’m not going to wear a mask. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried,” the beachgoer states. Simple as that.

Yet, even Kentucky Republican Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows this approach is foolish and wrong. He adamantly made this clear in a recent public address: “We must have no stigma – NONE – about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people. Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting everyone we encounter.”


Director Dr. Christopher Murray of The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent population health research center at the School of Medicine at the University of Washington, wants you to know something important. “People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50 percent, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk,” says Murray.

IHME, which recently released an updated forecast of about 180,000 projected coronavirus deaths through September, also provided a slither of hope. “However, high levels of mask-wearing [95% of the population] could reduce forecasted deaths by nearly 33,060.”

That’s a lot of lives saved for such a seemingly small action. But not everyone agrees. At a recent Townhall meeting at Palm Beach, Florida, a woman embarrassingly declared, “I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear: things gotta breathe!”

Infectious disease physician Dr. Mark Smolinski, director of Global Health Threats at the University of Arizona and president of Ending Pandemics, an organization that partners across the globe to help the fight against pandemics, sadly acknowledges the social divide. “As a public health official…I am both disappointed by the seemingly nonchalant actions of those without masks, and sad that I know it will mean the pandemic will continue to cause illness and death.”

Trusted Medical Investigative Journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who has been at the cutting edge of coronavirus reporting, is passionately blunt with his viewers about COVID-19. “How are we going to contain this? We’ve got to break these cycles of transmission,” he pleads with his audience. And he reminds them: “This is NOT a very hardy virus…it can’t jump very far… It’s pretty contained by a mask.”  

And U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has also been doing his part in urging the public to wear masks if we ever want to fully open up the economy. “Face coverings –> less asymptomatic viral spread –> more places open, and sooner!” He tweeted. He encourages all Americans to “Exercise and promote your freedom by choosing to wear a face-covering!”  

That’s right – WE have the POWER to choose to make a difference in saving lives in the face of this coronavirus pandemic by merely putting on a mask.Are you up for the challenge?

(In last month’s article, I had promised that we would discuss different types of masks and even how to make your own. I didn’t forget. But – yet again – I felt that we needed to focus on the whys of mask-wearing before delving into the hows this time around. But, I won’t leave you hanging, dear reader. Until next time, check this out the video by the CDC on YouTube titled “How to Make Your Own Face Covering” by U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams)