Masks should not be a political issue. It is ridiculous that they’ve become one. The pandemic, and masks, are a public health issue, and we’re in the biggest public health crisis since 1918.
Mounting data show that common mask usage reduces the spread of COVID-19. Yet many people refuse to wear masks on the grounds that it’s a matter of personal freedom.
If it were that simple, I might agree. After all, it’s your health. Like smoking and skydiving, you’re the one taking risks knowingly.
But it’s not just a single person’s health with an infectious disease. Every person with it is a vector for others to catch it, knowingly or not.
The constitution twice mentions the government’s responsibility to maintain “the general welfare,” but many apparently don’t believe it applies to the pandemic.
A large part of this is a glut of pseudo-science circulating out there, buoyed by the Internet, as well as ties to conspiracy theories and thoroughly debunked claims that the masks cause decreased oxygen, strokes, and a host of other unrelated issues. To many doctors, including myself, this is incredibly frustrating. Medicine is a science. We deal in facts, probabilities, and statistics. After spending so many years learning and trying to teach patients what is and isn’t real out there, it’s disheartening, to say the least, when they choose the meandering advice found on a Facebook or Twitter account over our hard-earned knowledge.
Here in Arizona, the governor’s stay-at-home order expired in mid-May. Although not intended as such, many treated it as a declaration of victory over coronavirus, quickly flocking back to restaurants, bars, and other public gathering places. Our case numbers have since skyrocketed. Yet the climbing numbers of cases as people associate more are ignored and belittled by many in the name of freedom.
People have donned the cloak of freedom and the Bill of Rights to take a stand against wearing masks.
In 1942, U-Boats were sinking ships off the east coast in huge numbers, with targeting made easy because they were silhouetted against cities. Black-outs were ordered to help stop this. Would these same people today have stood up then to declare “They’re my lights, and I’m free to keep them on if I want”? Would they have done the same if bombs were raining on New York like they did in London blackouts during the Blitz?
Self preservation is a powerful instinct. Every animal on Earth has it. Yet humans are the only ones that willfully ignore ways to prevent an as-yet untreatable disease.
You’d think, after all these years of civilization, scientific discovery, and research that we’d be better than this.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. He has no relevant disclosures.