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Masks... All or Nothing?

Updated: Apr 3

By: Dave Rojeck, PhD

Catholic Educational Leadership/Policy Studies

Three students wearing a mask
During the COVID pandemic, many schools required that students wear masks.

I don't want to wear a mask. My glasses fog up when I wear a mask and I can't see what I want to buy at the store. Almost a year ago we were told 15 days of social distancing and masks to slow the spread and ensure the availability of hospital rooms. That became 4-6 weeks, a bit of reprieve and loosening up from time-to-time, following by a conveyor belt of stricter guidelines, many not enforced in the same manner for different people or groups. It became clear that the USA could not completely lock down and consensus became that the economy must go on... In trying to achieve a balance between work and safety, the virus has not been vanquished. We will never really know how well it has been contained and must accept the findings of the data, which can be twisted and contorted.

When we compare results across countries, China has outperformed the USA in terms of deaths to coronavirus According to the World Health Organization dashboard on 1/2/21, 339,500 deaths in the USA have occurred as the result of Covid-19 while in China, there have only been 4,790 deaths. When I asked a friend of mine as to the reason, he gave the opinion that because China is an authoritarian country it is easier to force people into shutdowns and lockdowns.

The United States of America is founded on the principle of individual rights, therefore it is a more difficult task to mandate the wearing of masks and enforce shut downs. This may be the reason for the difference in numbers between the two countries. Of course, the numbers could also be fudged. There are questions of whether co-morbidities or Covid-19 are the primary reason for death. Certainly, a motorcycle accident cannot be claimed to be the cause of the virus. Quizzically, the diagnosis of the coronavirus can lead to additional funds being paid to hospitals, thus giving financial incentives to hospital administrators. Whatever you believe, there is a stark difference between the number of deaths due to Covid-19 in the USA and China.

As it has been said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease. The effects of shutdowns in the USA have been devastating to 'normal' society, resulting in suicide, drug abuse, and closing schools. The economic effects to the closures of restaurants, fitness centers and other small businesses has been devastating.

Social distancing is organic and natural, not a recent invention. If someone near me is sneezing and coughing, I am likely to move away from them. The wearing of masks on the other hand, is not natural. I may forget to put my mask on, but I would not forget to stay away from a leper. I'm not Jesus. It's just natural instinct to stay away from a sick person.

Moreover, I get confused when I am told to "slow the spread". Why would we want to slow the spread and allow the virus to hang around as long as possible? Like influenza, viruses come on the scene, have their way, and then go away. People get the flu, develop antibodies, herd immunity is attained and society continues. It would seem that rather than slowing the spread, another strategy would be to quicken its pace of departure.

The virus lurks, just waiting to strike at the people who have not attained antibodies or immunity yet. I'd rather see 99% get the virus, recover and live in normalcy than for people to never develop immunity and allow the virus to continue to lurk and strike from the shadows. A recent Danish study suggests that mask wearing to reduce the contraction of Covid-19 is not conclusive. Strict social distancing policies don't always align with Covid-19 cases in states (citation).

The United States has implemented a balanced strategy, not completely shutting down, but not entirely open, either. However, this half-way strategy doesn't seem to be working if we take as truth the numbers out of the USA and China. The virus continues. Why? Some say it's because people have not followed along with wearing their masks in public. Where I live every store, shop, bank, church, etc. requires the wearing of masks. But total compliance will never be had. The mask slips down under the nose. People can forget to wear it. Forcing people to wear masks in their homes is just not realistic.

Perhaps we should allow people to make up their own minds. If they are worried about getting the virus, then they shouldn't go out or wear masks as a choice but not a mandate. If 99% of those who have had the virus recover and then obtain immunity (not proven but suggested as with other viruses), it seems like the coronavirus would more likely go away by not social distancing and living normal lives, and not continuing as a grey cloud waiting to drop rain. Societies are simply not accustomed to setting rules for everyone for what happens to 1% of the people.

Yes, the vaccine is here and ready for implementation, but I don't hear anyone saying we are going to change our mitigation strategy anytime soon. I would rather get the virus and recover (hopefully) rather than not get it and have to continue for years with a social distancing strategy that may be putting the virus at bay, but is certainly not vanquishing it.

Many schools across the country continue to be shut down and relegate to online learning which isn't the ideal way to learn, even though children are least likely to contract it This is absolutely harmful to children and families. In-person learning, especially for youngsters is optimal.

I have been a teacher for many years. I had always heard that teachers generally have a better immune system than other professionals. "Studies show that constant exposure to pathogens strengthens an immune system and fights future related infections. That’s why most teachers feel less sick after remaining in the same school for an extended time.... A class full of children is a breeding ground for pathogens. Repeated exposure to similar pathogens helps teachers build a very strong immune response (although lifestyle and genetics play a role too)." That said, strict social distancing policies may hold off the 'rona for a time span which in turn also weakens people's' immune systems.

This continued struggle between the good of the collective versus the primacy of the individual will continue, as well as the coronavirus, unless the wearing of masks become an all or nothing strategy.

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