When Covid first appeared in the US, several Asian physician friends had simple advice for me, “Wear a mask.” Having dealt with various coronaviruses for over a decade, this was the fundamental lesson taken from dealing with and controlling these respiratory viruses. Now, I may only be a dumb neurosurgeon, (said with humility, irony and in jest), but I know a thing or two about masks, having spent 30 years of life wearing them, sometimes for 12 or more hours at a time. There is nothing pleasurable about wearing a mask, but I have experienced first-hand how masks can protect patients and physicians from illness. More broadly I have seen how masks can protect healthcare workers from the worst of infectious diseases, even giving them supernatural-like protection when they must enter the belly of the beast while caring for highly contagious and fatal illnesses like Ebola. Meanwhile, each and every day, healthcare workers all over the world, including my own family members are able to avoid infection while caring for hospitalized Covid patients who are often spewing the virus everywhere. It’s incontrovertible – masks truly work!; they prevent Covid infections.
So why is it that some people contest the efficacy of masks and refuse to wear them? Perhaps they’ve heard claims that wearing a mask poses a health risk such as hypoxia (when the body is deprived of oxygen) or hypercapnia (excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream). A plastic bag might do such a thing but certainly never a cloth mask, the preferred personal protection equipment (PPE) for the public. More sophisticated surgical masks and N95 respirators tend to fit more tightly than a cloth mask but they never result in hypoxia or hypercapnia. Meanwhile these more sophisticated tight fitting masks are generally reserved for healthcare professionals who sometimes can be literally engulfed in a cloud of airborne Covid-19 particles when dealing with very sick patients. No matter, masks trap only a tiny bit of carbon dioxide which is why as a surgeon I could wear one all day while performing very demanding surgeries. Even most patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, can AND SHOULD wear masks unless they are in the middle of an extreme exacerbation of their disease.
So damn it, why can’t y’all just wear masks when in public? Deep down I am a lifelong libertarian, and truly cherish freedom as much as any, but to equate wearing a mask with subjugation is just plain stupid. Neither is going maskless some expression of courage! I am asking you to wear a mask not to protect yourself, but so that you might protect other people, especially truly vulnerable individuals. OK, maybe you don’t give a sh*t about yourself or others; then wear a mask because you don’t want to be poor. Rampant Covid infections are interfering with US domestic economic activity but especially between the US and the rest of the world. If you haven’t heard, or experienced first-hand, Covid is really REALLY bad for the US economy. So what is it? What is your excuse for not wearing a mask when you are in public? Damn it, you are out of excuses. Covid-19 may be one badass virus, but it turns out it is no match for masks. So please, please, please wear a mask… and by the way, wash your hands too!