masks coronavirus covid19 united states donald trump pandemic
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masks coronavirus covid19 united states donald trump pandemic
Sign of the times: coronavirus mask. (Sosiukin, Adobe Stock)

Protective masks (along with social distancing and avoidance of crowds) are by far the most effective personal mitigation tools Americans have at hand to protect themselves and others from the potentially lethal effects of Covid-19.

But particularly masks.

At this point, it should go without saying, despite resistance baselessly encouraged by soon-to-be-ex-President Donald Trump.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), even went so far as to stress that he believes masks are more effective frustraters of coronavirus infection and spread than a vaccine (when, or if, we get one or more).

That’s the overwhelming consensus of virtually every leading pandemic disease expert in America (and the world, for that matter), including the top folks at the CDC, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), not to mention the World Health Organization (WHO).

There’s simply no argument about this among viral experts and other people who deeply understand the stark dangers of pandemics and necessary human behavior to stem them. The naysayers are outliers, like Dr. Scott Atlas — he’s a radiologist, not a viral disease expert — President Trump’s new main health adviser on his Coronavirus Task Force. He’s a political appointee appointed to parrot what the president wants him to parrot, not to provide unvarnished, unpoliticized medical truth to the American people, who are all now at risk and need straight talk. Indeed, Dr. Deborah Birx, a world-renowned immunologist and coronavirus response coordinator on the task force, was reported recently as strongly urging Vice President Mike Pence, the task force overseer, to get rid of Atlas because of the wildly dangerous nonsense he’s peddling. Dr. Atlas has been publicly opining in his official capacity about the need to seek highly questionable “herd immunity” and how mask efficacy is greatly exaggerated.

Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s globally respected top immunology expert and head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, projects that quixotically seeking herd immunity would be a “disaster” for the nation, likely killing millions of people. Dr. Fauci also constantly and strongly extolls the virtues of masks.

So, it’s undeniable: masks are essential in blunting this deadly pandemic as we fight its inexorable spread in the U.S. And, ironically, considering the president’s demand for reopening the economy no matter what, even as new Covid cases are now spiking in a third surge nationwide, we simply won’t be able to safely do that without masking.

masks coronavirus covid19 united states donald trump pandemic
Coronavirus and the new normal. (Mike Finn, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

If the president had resolutely pushed mask-wearing when the pandemic first arrived more than eight months ago, our economy would have already fully opened again long before now (and there would be far fewer dead) — as is the case in other countries whose leaders actually provided rational, science-based leadership to mandate strong mitigation efforts, not denial and dreamy hopes of miracles cures (bleach injections, anyone?).

Yet, we still have U.S. citizens today continuing to blindly follow the administration’s bogus talking points that Americans should be free to choose whether or not to wear masks (even my own governor in South Dakota, Kristi Noem, and that mandating them — as some told my town’s City Council when it considered a mask mandate last month — is somehow a violation of fundamental democratic rights.

With that kind of thinking, adhering to traffic lights and stop signs should be voluntary (not to mention seat belts), and that violations should not be penalized in any way. Even though ignoring those laws kills people.

Not wearing masks in the middle of a pandemic, especially when experts insist it is the best protection from the virus by far, should fall into the category of ignoring traffic signals and stop signs at will. Refusing to wear a mask also can kill people — ourselves and, more importantly in a moral sense, innocent others.

To insist that the efficacy of masks is iffy is to unconscionably buy into the current president’s fact-free and lethal malarky that he dreamed up simply to, he believed, increase his chances for re-election Nov. 3 (which he lost) with a base that thrills to him sticking his finger in the eye of the establishment. Truth is not even in the mix here. It’s all about grievance and vengeance and politics.

Hats off to Susan Tjarks, a member of my local city council, who passionately argued at a council meeting for strong mask policies for city facilities, even though Council President Kevin McCardle emphatically disagreed, contending the whole thing boils down to choice. No it doesn’t. It boils down to severe illness and death.

Tjarks stressed that she didn’t mean mask refusniks should be arrested but that city officials should enact an emphatic mask policy and relentlessly recommend masking to citizens at all city venues. Sounds reasonable to me, although even a full mandate with penalties would also be rational, even if tricky to enforce.

Two citizens at the recent council meeting said they’d seen studies downplaying the effectiveness of masks, and they’re welcome to their own opinions. But they’re not world-beating immunologists or epidemiologists. Besides, they’re just parroting Trump talking points, not anything serious medical experts actually believe in consensus.

We should all be listening to recommendations of our top nonpartisan public-health experts, not rank-and-file folks whose anecdotal opinions just happen to match magical ideas coming from the sludgy medical swamp engulfing the White House.

Thank goodness we’ll have a new president starting January 20 who resides in the real world, where the pandemic is all-too-real and its lethal effects devastating to the population.

This is how we’ll turn things around. Not by ignoring reality and the mitigation efforts (mask-wearing, above all) that health experts are, by this point, literally begging us to do.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...