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Don Rogers: Mask up to follow science

Don Rogers

For the first time since lockdown in mid-March, our family went to another family’s home last week to celebrate a 60th birthday. So nice. Seemed safe enough. Two families who don’t get out much.

COVID-19 has only grazed Nevada County so far, and people have felt pretty comfortable with the reopening. Parking was hard to find again in downtown Truckee on a Tuesday. Looked almost normal for a nice summer day. And protesters clustered at four key corners of an intersection in Grass Valley’s Brunswick Basin more than one evening while I drove by.

We had a great time with our friends, sticking with air hugs and kisses, keeping our distance though inside, having a beer, joking and talking more seriously in turn as used to be usual, catching up.

The next day I got a call. The county was about to report 10 new cases, about a 20% increase in a day, a 60% rise since restrictions began to lift a few weeks ago.

These latest had come from two gatherings like ours. One on the Truckee side of the county and the other around Grass Valley.

As of Friday, the numbers themselves remain low, only 101 so far in a county of 99,000 people. But we had held at 42 cases for nearly two months before the inevitable happened as the restrictions lifted. Confirmed cases, as well as testing, have doubled since the beginning of June.

New cases statewide have increased steadily since the lockdown began. The rise roughly mirrors the increase in testing, but there are other signs of the pace of contagion picking up again. Enough so to alarm public health officials and community leaders.

Hospitalizations across the state for COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 patients dropped into the mid-4,000s from a late April high of 6,000, but they have ticked back to the 5,000 level for the first time since the beginning of May. We’re not out of the woods. The pandemic isn’t over. Zoom may have to do a little while longer.

THE EVIDENCE

Now we’re being asked to make mask wearing part of our daily routine, like social distancing and washing our hands really well.

The evidence for masks has grown more convincing as the disease has worn on. We know now that the main means of transmission is droplets from breathing, coughing, hollering, sneezing — something like 20 feet with a sneeze. Wearing a cloth mask limits this spread.

Mask-wearing cultures in and around southeastern Asia have far less contagion than countries where mask wearing is not so prevalent, including ours.

South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong never locked down like we did, but their citizens wear masks and have largely kept this disease at bay. None have keeled over from carbon dioxide poisoning, incidentally. Nor have medical personnel in hospitals around the globe.

By comparison, the evidence for locking down is more ambiguous.

California sheltered in mid-March, and daily cases marched upward through the lockdown and after the lockdown. We haven’t reached peak yet.

New York locked down a couple of days after we did, and for the next seven-eight weeks led the entire world in daily new cases and deaths before plummeting — well beyond 14-day incubations periods. No one should be taking bows in the Northeast.

But the regular flu disappeared like a faucet had shut off.

Sweden, which neither locked down nor developed a mask-wearing culture, still has less contagion per capita than the United States and harder-hit European countries that did lock down, though far more cases and deaths than its Scandinavian neighbors next door. WHAT IS KNOWN

Now cases are rising across the South — faster than increased testing would suggest — with restrictions lifting, social distance discipline breaking down, and in a region where people seem least likely to wear masks.

Meantime, better news: Deaths nationwide are way down from a peak of nearly 3,000 deaths a day in late April to around 500 daily now. California deaths have stayed low, around 65 a day, even as the daily new cases have mounted.

More good news: The large outdoor protests for racial justice have not proven out as the super spreaders public health experts feared. Nor the protests for liberty before them. We’ll see about President Trump’s indoor rally Saturday in Tulsa where 6,200 people gathered.

There’s still plenty we don’t know about this disease, which has led to a lot of partisan foolishness all around from people who want to believe they do have the answers and shame on anyone who disagrees.

But we do know this pandemic so far has killed twice as many people as a “bad flu year,” a fact leaving favorable comparisons with influenza at this point to the truly ignorant.

And it’s plain now, through studies of how the masks work and the practical effect in countries where masks are widely worn, that they indeed make a difference.

Given this knowledge, let’s also acknowledge that American-style freedom is about civic responsibility as much as individual liberty — or license. We’re compelled to wear our seatbelts and motorcycle helmets in large part to spare the burdens on society otherwise.

Masks are no different. Making a political statement out of them at this point is about as smart as calling COVID-19 just another flu.

Besides, wearing a face covering is easy and free of the downsides of, say, lockdowns. This much we know.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299.


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