Only in America in the age of Trump could a simple, straightforward public health precaution become a kind of political litmus test symbolizing personal freedom or, in some cases, manliness?! I’m referring, of course, to the wearing of face masks to reduce the risk of transmission of the highly contagious novel coronavirus or Covid-19.
The virus that causes Covid-19 spreads from person to person “mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks” according to the CDC. The droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. Many people infected with the virus do not always show symptoms of the disease but still do a fine job of transmitting it via their respiratory droplets.
Masks, and to some extent face shields, are effective barriers to virus transmission, particularly to protect those around infected persons. Public health workers often wear both masks and plastic face shields to protect themselves as well as those around them. The Trump-appointed head of the CDC, Robert Redfield, recently testified to Congress that masks in fact are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” to fight the pandemic.
There is abundant evidence to support that statement in the United States and in countries around the world. In the U.S. jurisdictions with mask mandates, infections and deaths from Covid-19 related causes have declined following the introduction of masks. In other jurisdictions, especially more urban ones without mandates rates of infection and death are higher in nearly all cases. The same holds true in countries around the world. Unfortunately, in some cases U.S. jurisdictions and other countries prematurely lifted mask mandates with the virus still present and, once they did, infections and deaths soared.
Locally, in Reston we have examples of extraordinary public support for the mask precaution based on common sense recommendation alone. One is the Reston Farmers Market, which is attracting an average of 1800-plus shoppers on Saturday mornings in the Lake Anne Village Center parking lot. Last Saturday (9/19), we had 1,945 shoppers for the freshest fruits, veggies, meats, baked goods, etc. At the Market, we can only “recommend” that masks be worn according to Virginia state mandate, but not require them. It turns out that Reston area shoppers not only know where they can find the freshest foods, they are smarter in other ways, have common sense, and are caring, responsible folks who want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Last Saturday, we observed two out of the 1,945 shoppers unmasked and unwilling to take a free mask from our volunteers. Full disclosure, I am a volunteer manager at the Reston Farmers Market.
Imagine if all Americans had this same sense of responsibility for them-selves and their neighbors from the beginning of this dreadful, deadly virus. Imagine if political leadership at the top and around the country were imbued with it. How many tens of thousands of people would be alive today if they had been?!
Meanwhile, dozens of dedicated Secret Service agents who protect President Trump and Vice President Pence have been infected by Covid-19 or been quarantined after direct contact with unmasked infected people at rallies and other functions involving a President who even mocks the wearing of masks and other public health measures. Isn’t there a certain irony about a president who discourages practical public health measures that might have saved a few thousand lives among his most ardent supporters? I wonder how many additional thousands he can cram into his events between now and November 3?