“If he’s not wearing a mask, I’m not going to wear a mask. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried.” Alabama beachgoer, commenting on President Donald Trump’s refusal to wear a mask. (Huffington Post, May 26)
Public health shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but throughout history, it’s often been one. When people get scared, they frequently act irrationally, lashing out, looking for someone to blame for what’s happening.
From 1348 to 1351, the Black Plague ravaged Europe, killing up to one-half of the population. The science of the day had no answers, so people sought their own solutions. The Jewish people were favorite scapegoats at the time. Jews were required by law to wear distinctive clothing and live in specific places. They were easy to identify. Their religious laws required them to wash their hands before eating and bathe weekly, so they were usually also healthy.
Because of this, many Europeans suspected the Jews were intentionally spreading the illnesses that regularly attacked the population. During the Black Plague, these suspicions spilled over into horrific violence. On Feb. 14, 1349, in Strasbourg, France, hundreds of Jews were gathered together and burned alive, in a misguided attempt to stop the disease. Similar incidents were repeated in other cities. This didn’t stop the plague, of course. It just created more suffering.
The plague still exists today. If someone gets it, antibiotics will cure them. The plague wasn’t conquered by terrorizing people. It was conquered by modern scientific medical practices. That’s the only way to defeat disease.
Today, the world is battling a pandemic called COVID-19. As of June 12, this virus has killed over 422,274 people worldwide, over 115,487 in America alone, the most in any individual country. There is no vaccine for this virus and few treatments. The only way to prevent illness is by social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, and wearing a mask.
Unfortunately, these precautions have become politicized. Some people think blaming others and ignoring medical advice is the way to go. That wrong thinking puts millions of American lives at risk.
It didn’t have to be that way. When COVID-19 first appeared, several countries took early and aggressive action, including requiring everyone to wear masks. Wearing a mask is partly to protect the wearer, but mostly to protect everyone else. Not wearing a mask shows disrespect and disregard for the health of those around you. A study in Hong Kong found that masks reduce transmission of the virus by 75 percent. A University of Washington study found transmission reduced by 50 percent.
How else do we know wearing masks can help defeat COVID-19? The results prove it. These statistics are from some of those countries which took early action, including requiring masks on everyone. As of June 12, these are the total number of deaths in each of these countries, with the population in parentheses. Compare the number of total deaths to the 115,487 deaths so far in the U.S. (population 333.55 million).
Japan: 922 deaths (126.77 million); South Korea: 277 deaths (53.73 million); Australia: 102 deaths (25.36 million); Singapore: 25 deaths (5.7 million); New Zealand: 22 deaths (4.6 million); Taiwan: 7 deaths (23.77 million); Hong Kong: 4 deaths (7.49 million); Vietnam: 0 deaths (97.25 million).
If we had the same ratio of deaths to population as Japan, that would have been a total of 2,426 deaths in America, instead of over 115,000. With Hong Kong’s ratio, we would have had 178 deaths total. Masks work.
Sadly, President Trump keeps promoting the idea that masks aren’t important. During a press conference on May 26, a reporter, Jeff Mason, was wearing a mask while asking Trump a question. Trump asked the reporter to remove the mask; he refused.
Trump responded by saying, “OK, you want to be politically correct. Go ahead.” With that comment, Trump reinforced the idea that wearing a mask is a political statement instead of a health precaution, setting a horrible example for everyone. (USA Today, May 27)
America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but about 27 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. Those who think not wearing a mask shows your independence or whatever are basically saying that your political views are more important than the lives of those around you.
The huge number of deaths and the resulting economic collapse is a direct result of Trump’s incompetence and indifference. Trump is setting a dangerous example. We shouldn’t do the same. Wear a mask. The life you save might be your own.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.