Guest commentary: Face masks will benefit our entire community, doctor says
The recent uptick in Pitkin County is concerning. With reopening and an influx of visitors, we are seeing more COVID-19 cases and had our first hospitalization in three weeks. Many of our new arrivals are from virus-stricken states where reopening was more political than sensible.
The virus needs to take over our cells to make more of itself. Spread by close contact and droplets, it infects lung cells and causes cough, fever, diarrhea, pneumonia and shortness of breath in two to 14 days after infection. Before you have symptoms, your cells are virus factories, and you are expelling virus-laden droplets by the simple act of talking.
If we can prevent the spread of the virus to others, our bodies will fight it off, and the virus is gone. If not, the virus wins. We may have to wait months or years for a vaccine or for more than 60% of the population to get the disease — i.e. herd immunity. The suffering caused by only 3% of Coloradans being infected is already immense. I can’t imagine the pain of getting to 60%. Also, following guidance from the state, if we reach 18 new cases in one week, we will have to halt reopening efforts.
How do we keep our town open? Wear masks. Masks are effective at catching droplets. There are numerous studies that back this up. Countries that have endorsed masks and social distancing are returning to a sense of normalcy. In March, the Czech Republic was the first European country to require masks. In May, it was able to lift most restrictions — including its face mask requirement. It has had only 336 COVID-19 deaths, while Sweden with same population but no mask mandate has had 5,053 deaths.
Contrary to popular belief, COVID is worse than the flu. Healthy young people can be disabled for months after infection. Do you really want to spend two weeks in beautiful Aspen fighting this virus with fatigue, fever, cough, pneumonia and feeling like you are drowning in your own lungs? You can spread it to others before you have symptoms. Almost half of the primary spreaders are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic young adults.
The United States has far more COVID cases and deaths than any other nation. Big cities such as Phoenix, which resisted imposing mask requirements, are now requiring masks in public indoor spaces, but it is too late. Their hospitals are being overwhelmed. This could happen here if we are not careful.
Pitkin County’s public health decisions are driven by data — balancing a desire to boost our economy while not overwhelming our health care system. Please follow our five commitments of covering your face in public spaces, washing hands, socially distancing, staying home and getting tested if sick. Don’t be responsible for someone else’s illness, death or loss of employment. With the five commitments, we can defeat this virus.
This is our new normal until the virus burns itself out, or we have immunity through widespread vaccination.
Dr. Jeannie Seybold is an at-large member of the Pitkin County Board of Health.