If the numbers of new cases and deaths caused by COVID-19 haven’t scared you, you’ll never have to prove your bravery in any other way. By bravery, I mean stupidity.
There’s brave and there’s stupid. Many people still think we’re dealing with a nasty flu. It isn’t the flu. It isn’t the common cold. It’s a coronavirus that’s ambitious; one that’s trying to outdo its relative SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in infecting and/or killing human beings. It’s doing a good job at both.
Given the alarming news that 25 percent of infections may be asymptomatic, why isn’t everyone wearing masks? This is the same question the Centers for Disease Control and Protection is pondering at this very moment. The practice of wearing masks in public is now being “critically re-reviewed” by the organization.
Why haven’t they recommended this before? Health authorities are reluctant to tell people to wear personal protection equipment when the supply is scarce, preferring to funnel available items to medical workers on the front line. This is commendable, but with the CDC endorsing home care for mild-moderate cases, Isn’t the front line the sick room at home? Isn’t there a medical worker in every family?
These people are the “medics in reserve” that I’ve been talking about all these years. Because of that, I’ve recommended that every family should prepare a supply of medical items for disasters, like the current pandemic. The few who listened probably included some masks and gloves in their storage. The rest, however, may be reduced to bandannas or other improvisations.
If 25 percent of COVID-19 patients don’t even know they have the disease, it ‘s possible that every foray outside may infect someone that will have symptoms. A percentage may wind up in serious or critical condition. Some of those will occupy the limited number of ventilators available. The rest may be out of luck.
Now, some research says that you may be contagious for up to eight days after the disappearance of symptoms. They state: “COVID-19 patients can be infectious even after their symptomatic recovery, so treat the asymptomatic/recently recovered patients as carefully as symptomatic patients.” Note that they’re talking about people who were mild cases. It not known whether those who recovered from severe illness have even more residual viral presence.
Despite this, a trip to the local grocery makes it clear that only a small percentage will bother to wear a mask, gloves, or face shield. A month ago, personal protection gear would have been considered overkill. You might even consider it overkill today. But right now, it may make the difference between life and death; maybe not for you, but for someone you know, or someone you don’t who had the bad fortune of picking up a peach you decided against buying.
So, CDC/WHO recommendations or not, whether you have symptoms or not, wear a mask when you got out in public. Save a life. And don’t be surprised if they soon tell you to do just that.
Joe Alton MD
If you’d like to know more about viral infectious diseases, check out the Alton’s latest book: Alton’s Pandemic Preparedness Guide: Dealing with Emerging and Current Viral Threats, the product of ten years of writing about pandemics and other infectious disease outbreaks.