Dumb Luck

I’m sorry, friends. I couldn’t help myself from continuing last article’s theme of giving you quotes from President Donald Trump’s rally speech in Tulsa last Saturday.

At the 1:27:45 mark, he defended the United States’s course of action in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic:

What’s wrong with having these great economic numbers? What’s wrong with having to close it down? We saved millions of lives. You know, a lot of people say, “we should’ve gone herd. Let’s go herd.” Ask them, “how are they doing in Brazil?” He’s a great friend of mine, not good. You heard about Sweden, right? Too much, ask how they’re doing in Sweden. We saved millions of lives, and now it’s time to open up and get back to work.

– President Donald Trump at his re-election campaign rally in Tulsa, OK on June 20, 2020

Well, I’ll tell you. Brazil is the country with the second-most documented COVID-19 cases, over 1.2 million, along with over 54,000 deaths. Sweden, which has a little over 10 million people, currently has over 62,000 documented cases along with over 5,200 deaths.

Those numbers still pale in comparison to the United States. The U.S. continues to lead the world with over 2.4 million documented cases and over 124,000 deaths, more than all American military casualties during World War I. The CDC is projecting that the national coronavirus death toll could reach up to 150,000 by July 18.

Ventura County’s two-month stay-at-home order to suppress the spread of COVID-19 has seemingly been rendered ineffective by the massive increases in newly-reported cases across the last four days. Over half of states are seeing an upward trend in daily reported cases, including California, Texas, Florida, Missouri, Arizona and others.

I remember seeing this video from the Czech Republic health department on Twitter back in early April, which strongly encouraged people in countries suffering from COVID-19 outbreaks (specifically Italy, Spain and the U.S.) to wear masks. The video looked at its spread logically: wearing a mask prevents 95-99% of droplets that carry COVID-19 from being released into the air. I never shared it to any of my social media profiles. In late May, the country decided to lift its mandatory mask-wearing policy after successfully holding down cases.

Czechia (yes, it’s the short-form name of the Czech Republic, I didn’t know either until now), like Sweden, has a population of ~10 million people, and it has reported less than 10,000 cases and 345 deaths, 15 times less than Sweden’s deaths.

At this point, our country needs to do some serious self-reflection in the face of COVID-19. There are no ifs, ands or buts. The United States of America is doing an unbelievably terrible job at suppressing its spread.

There is a serious stigma against wearing a mask in public, and I just can’t explain why. I remember at the beginning of June, when we had just came out of COVID-19 hibernation, I went to a friend’s house to hang out with my buddies that I hadn’t seen in two months. Evan was driving while I fiddled with my mask in the passenger’s seat, too afraid to actually wear it outside. “I’d look like an idiot,” I thought to myself.

Here’s the problem: I would’ve looked like an idiot. Why would I even bother wearing a mask around people who aren’t? I’m not protecting myself by wearing a mask. I’d just be protecting people from myself, and I had been wearing a mask in every public setting I had been in, which would only have been at a grocery store or a restaurant for takeout.

I still consciously made an effort to maintain social distancing, which I likely inevitably failed to do across the night. Since then, I’ve also played at the park with friends and seen others outside, albeit while strictly social distancing. I’ve gone to the driving range to hit some golf balls, and I’ve played bogey golf once or twice at Los Robles. I’ve even been in a car, unmasked, with a couple of friends.

I’ve tried to encourage widespread mask usage throughout the few articles of this godforsaken column, and even I’ve struggled to listen to myself!

The worst part of it all is that our Health and Human Services Department hasn’t given the American public any explicit data about the effectiveness of masks. My intuition for thinking that I’m an idiot lies in this graphic on Instagram which details how the coronavirus can be limited by universally wearing masks: according to the post, if a COVID carrier and a healthy person are both wearing a mask, the probability of transmission is only 1.5 percent. But, I don’t know if that’s even true! I am dying to know the source of this data!

We have looked at the coronavirus pandemic from a flawed perspective in a variety of different capacities. It started with failing to properly address the original outbreak, which the Chinese government first reported to the WHO almost six months ago on December 31, 2019. It continued with our failure to build up an adequate supply of accurate COVID-19 tests, setting back our ability to scale up testing by months and preventing us from safely reopening.

I still have zero idea if I’ve had the coronavirus. I haven’t gotten tested. I don’t know the exact percentage of Americans who are in the same position as me, but just by looking at our total number of tests, slightly over 30 million, at least 90% of U.S. citizens haven’t gotten tested either!

Remember that video of Rep. Katie Porter grilling Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, three months ago, demanding that every American must receive a coronavirus test at no cost? We certainly haven’t made that a reality!

Then again, when you consider that people in Rep. Porter’s constituency, the people of Orange County, California, showed up en masse at a protest to reopen in Huntington Beach on May 1 and a Board of Supervisors meeting to criticize the mandatory mask-wearing policy in June that was mandated by the county’s Chief Health Official, Dr. Nichole Quick, it becomes clear that literally everybody is playing a part in this problem.

That policy was soon repealed in response to community outrage, and Dr. Quick resigned because, according to her former colleague Supervisor Doug Chaffee, “it was too much for her. She has three young children and she’s been severely criticized by people who came out demanding her resignation, demonstrations in front of her home.”

Our fight against the coronavirus has been reactive, not proactive. When cases have gone up, we have been urged to stay home, fearful of virus transmission that has already taken place, evidenced by lagging case results that rise weeks after the damage is done. The only way to be proactive in a reopened society is to wear a mask. I will never understand the WHO‘s diction when referring to the transmission of COVID-19:

Respiratory infections can be transmitted through droplets of different sizes: when the droplet particles are >5-10 μm in diameter they are referred to as respiratory droplets, and when then are <5μm in diameter, they are referred to as droplet nuclei. According to current evidence, COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes. In an analysis of 75,465 COVID-19 cases in China, airborne transmission was not reported.

– “Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations,” published by the WHO on March 29, 2020

(Read the following sentence with your best John Oliver impression) Yes, everybody. The virus doesn’t spread through the air, it just spreads through bigger, highly contagious droplet particles that are in the fucking air!

Even in this so-called age of information, I’m not the only one confused about aerosols and their roles in spreading COVID-19: here’s Justin Morgenstern explaining them better than I can. I don’t know how deadly COVID-19 is. I don’t know the long-term health effects of COVID-19. I don’t know what to do about people wanting to swim on the 4th of July. None of us really do. This is a new, highly contagious virus that, for as long as we don’t have a vaccine or highly effective treatment, we must adapt to.

Could you imagine if, like the 1918 flu pandemic, COVID-19 had high mortality rates among people under the age of five, between the ages of 20 and 40, and over the age of 65? I’m sure a lot more people would be wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines.

The problem with looking at this pandemic from a macro perspective is that it allows people to easily disregard the threat of a highly contagious virus because, while it may affect those around them, it most likely won’t kill them unless they’re much older or have pre-existing conditions.

Some of us (I’m talking to you, my young friends) are pretty lucky to most likely avoid dealing with the severe personal health consequences of COVID-19, but it is imperative that we wear masks to protect the well-being of those who aren’t in the same position as us and to reopen the economy in a fashion that won’t put lives at danger. The alternative, ignoring the reality of a highly contagious virus, will only lead to more deaths and more ICU visits, bringing the phrase of “flattening the curve” back into the picture as the Texas healthcare system is bracing for a surge.

This isn’t meant to equate racial injustice and police brutality to the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are certainly two vastly different issues that currently demand the attention of the American public. But, providing solutions to both problems are massive undertakings that require participation from everyone, not just those who are suffering from their consequences.

I can’t imagine how the seniors and black people of Scottsdale, Arizona feel after seeing this video of City Councilman Guy Phillips say the following at his anti-mask rally yesterday:

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. [Phillips takes off his mask to applause from his audience, and he shakes his head] Insanity. Insanity. I’m going to start with a quote that someone just told me from Benjamin Franklin. This is in the 1700s, folks. So they had the same problem: “anyone who would give up his freedom for temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”

– Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips at an anti-mask rally in Scottsdale, AZ on June 24, 2020

I wish I could say that I’m at least surprised by an elected official saying something so profoundly stupid, but I will remind you that I began this column with a quote from our president. Don’t equate the dying words of George Floyd and Eric Garner to wearing a cloth mask to protect vulnerable people from a deadly virus, and don’t take the words of Benjamin Franklin out of context to back up a dumb argument (he made this remark to rebuke the Penn family’s refusal to pay taxes on its land to fund the French and Indian War, not in defense of anyone who refuses to wear a mask, and the quote has been taken out of context in the past).

It brings me back to what I said not too long ago: suppressing the spread of COVID-19 has somehow turned into a debate of life vs. liberty, and as more people, in the United States and abroad, are at risk of losing their lives to this new disease, there needs to be a better sense of accountability in maintaining any sort of grip over this new reality.

Caroline Dade, a reporter for KOMU News, asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson if he felt “personal responsibility for the people who have [been] infected and don’t recover” after choosing to reopen the state. This was his response:

Let me ⁠— let me just say this. I ⁠— I don’t even know where you come up with that question of personal responsibility as governor of the state of Missouri when you’re talking about a virus. You know, that’s no different to the flu virus, or do I feel guilty because we have car accidents and people die every day. No, I don’t feel guilty about that, you know? Each person that gets in those situations, things happen like that in life. They do. I don’t know that any one person is responsible for that, no more than anybody else standing out here in this hallway, you know. I mean, I can say the same thing for the media. Maybe you don’t do a good enough job really telling people the facts.

– Missouri Gov. Mike Parson addressing Caroline Dade’s question at a press conference on June 24, 2020

If the governor of a state does not feel personal responsibility for the lost lives of his constituency in the face of COVID-19, then our government has failed us. Our president has failed us. His administration has failed us. The HHS has failed us. A lot of us (myself included) have failed us. We have all failed in telling everyone how important it is to wear a mask in public. The data of the only case study we need is in front of us: just look at the difference in coronavirus case numbers between Czechia and Sweden.

The American public cannot afford to play dumb any longer. Just wear your damn mask.

The featured image of this article was taken by an unknown photographer in 1919 in Brisbane, Australia, during the influenza outbreak over a century ago. The photo, provided by the State Library of Queensland, can be found here.

Published by Nate Brenner

Nate Brenner is a sophomore at the University of Missouri studying journalism.

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