An Appeal

New recommendations for world health authorities signed by 239 scientists will soon be published in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases. The guidance is based on overwhelming evidence that a person infected by COVID-19 can spread the virus from 30 feet away, not the 6 feet that currently informs social distancing guidelines.

Today I’m writing to appeal to a specific person, who may be turning the page at this very moment. Please keep reading.

You have decided that it’s OK for you not to wear a mask in public places. You think that it’s not as bad as they say, and besides, masks aren’t that effective. You read something on the internet that suggests this is all a conspiracy to further enslave people. Nobody is going to make you wear a mask. You know your rights.

I have a question for you. If you were caught in a rainstorm and you had an umbrella that blocked 95% of the rain, would you use it?

If you had a teenage son whom you knew was going to do what teenagers are prone to do, would tell him to use protection? Would you smoke a cigarette in an elevator full of people? Do you wear a seatbelt when you’re driving?

The world has forgotten, but there were many people who balked at seatbelt laws when they were new. The laws were considered by some to be just another coercive measure by government to control people’s lives, but wiser heads prevailed and a civil society decided that while you had a right to kill yourself with your automobile, you did not have the right to drive up hospital and insurance costs for everyone else in the process.

So you’ve read a lot of opinions to the contrary. Yes, we’re all Google scholars today. Why don’t you ask your doctor what she thinks, or do you have better information than your doctor? The difference between a scientist and a Google scholar is that scientists try to keep their own cognitive bias in check while they search for the facts. Most of us search for evidence that what we want to believe is true, and the internet makes that almost effortless.

The appeal soon to be published is from a group of scientists that cover a wide range of disciplines, including epidemiology, virology, medicine, aerosol physics, flow dynamics and building engineering. It’s part of an effort to provide workable solutions to this ongoing crisis and to answer the question, “How do we keep the economy going while keeping everyone as safe as possible?”

I think we’re all in agreement that a crashing economy can potentially hurt us as much or more than a virus, but some of you have rationalized your refusal to wear a mask or take other precautions as some kind of brave stand for normal life and individual rights. How much have you helped the economy if you get sick, or infect someone else?

Maybe you’ve missed some of the information about how this virus kills and maims, how unpredictable it is, given our current knowledge, how it sickens some people, but others show no symptoms at all. It’s almost like Russian Roulette. Are you willing to play Russian Roulette with your grandmother’s life, or your granddaughter’s?

I’m not asking you to believe me, but if you are still in doubt, I am asking you to ask your doctor.

In case you haven’t noticed, our relatively remote mountain communities are no longer a protection against the spread of the virus. For most of this year, Towns County had registered about 24 cases. Recently over a period of about 2 weeks that doubled to around 50. It was in the 50’s when I looked at the Georgia Department of Health’s website last week. This morning it stands at 70.

Sure, the numbers are “small” because we’re a small community, but you don’t have to be a math major to see the disturbing trend, and you would have to stick your head deeply into the sand to miss the trend nationwide as we continue to set new records for daily infections.

As far as our local communities go, look around next time you’re in town. Notice the high number of license plates from other counties or out of state. It’s the middle of summer and the vacationers are here, but the virus has inspired a lot more people to seek out places they think are “safe” and out of the way.

That’s fine for our local economy as far as it goes, but apparently people on vacation believe they are immune from any harm, because the majority of people I see are not taking any precautions.

So if you’re a long time resident or a visitor, please, take precautions. Use a mask. I know it galls us to be confined, to be told what to do, but what are you really losing? How much have you really suffered, confined to your air conditioned living room with Netflix and Google? That extra 5 lbs. of fat on your belly tells me you didn’t suffer too much.

Your nurse wears a mask for 10 hours a day and then goes home to make dinner for her kids.  Can we not endure a small amount of inconvenience if it helps save people’s lives and keeps the economy running, or are we softer than our ancestors, who survived world wars and pandemics and rationing? Are you too soft to bear wearing a small piece of fabric?

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