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Why wouldn't you want to act in a way to protect others?

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Dr. Mark Jaben

By now, most of us are quite aware of what happened at the Waynesville public hearing on a proposed mask mandate. What stood out in the Mountaineer article were the comments by those attending. In the interest of full information, I want to weigh in from a public health perspective. As Paul Harvey used to say: ‘Now the rest of the story.’

‘I don’t know anyone who has had it.’ I am happy this person doesn’t know anyone affected. Possibly it’s because Haywood County has done well in keeping cases low compared to other places in the region and country.

If he were in a hotspot, like South Dakota currently with a rate of new cases nearly 20 times higher, perhaps he and those around him would not be as lucky. I wish his experience was true for everyone, especially for the 228,000 who have died, their families, and the many with persistent symptoms.

‘How do we know the numbers are accurate?’ Well even if the numbers were half those reported, that is still over 100,000 people dead. I trust that is not acceptable either. (To refresh, flu was estimated to take 55,000 lives this past year. And if you want to know how death certificates work, search Youtube, Daily pandemic update with Dr. Mark, video #79)

‘If you don’t get tested, you don’t have Covid.’ Well, not exactly. Not knowing doesn’t mean you don’t have it. Testing identifies those infected, who should isolate to protect those around them, and to know the care needed if one’s condition worsens. If you don’t want to contribute to spreading the virus, you want to know.

‘I do not believe the …state should dictate….what they should have on their body.’ I agree. People should take ownership to protect themselves and others. The state should not have to tell us how best to behave, but sometimes it’s necessary because there are those among us who don’t take it upon themselves. An infected person is most contagious a few days before symptoms start and the first few days after getting sick. There is no way to know if you are pre-symptomatic and a risk to others or others a risk to you. Do you intend to harm another? If not, take it upon yourself to act.

‘Once the government establishes its right……..all of our liberty is gone.’ It’s seductive to jump from here to there. Government has always acted on behalf of public health, especially in the last 140 years. We have all benefitted by safer workplaces, factories, restaurants, groceries, roadways, airlines- the list goes on and on.

And the feared slippery slope has not occurred yet. Is there a risk? Well, maybe. But, there is more risk right now in not controlling this virus than the risk of overreach. If you stand in a meadow and a saber tooth tiger is running at you, does it matter that there is a pack of wolves waiting in the forest? Let’s deal with the immediate threat and be cautious about what comes next.

‘The Bible says to fear not.’ I agree. This is not a time to be scared; it is a time to be careful. Wearing a mask, good hand hygiene, and physical distancing have nothing to do with fear or being told to do something. They have everything to do with the Golden Rule.

‘It is tragic that this is how children are experiencing grade school.’ I agree, but as much as I, too, would like it not to be so, it’s not the same world we had before Covid. Adapting to change is not easy, but let’s acknowledge, there is no going back- only going forward. Let’s trust people can figure out how to live their lives in a way that best balances physical health, emotional health, economic health, and spiritual health.…if that is what you want. It will just be different.

‘What about the fact he dies alone?’ Too many have experienced what this nurse laments; it must not be minimized. The tragedy of Covid is that we know what works to tamp this down, so we don’t all have to live so much under its shadow, and yet the evidence is right in front of our eyes that too many are not seeing fit to act in the name of health and safety.

And how about one more that is not from the public hearing. Yesterday I was asked: ‘isn’t saying masks work a lie?’ That depends on what is meant by ‘work.’ Do masks stop everything- no; do masks work by reducing the amount of virus spewed into the air or inhaled, thereby reducing the risk of you or others getting infected- most certainly. And every little bit helps. For an in-depth look, see the article about masks in The Mountaineer, July 22.

So if the source of your information is not giving you the rest of the story, whether to mislead or manipulate or because they are misinformed, maybe it’s time to think twice about that source and verify their story elsewhere?

This is a great opportunity for each of us to think deeply about our choices, not only for one’s own personal welfare, but also in light of the welfare of others. Consider the risk you take, but also the risk your choices put upon others. It’s true- no one can enforce any of this. The choice to do or not do is yours alone. Why would you not choose life and health and safety?

Dr. Mark Jaben is the Haywood County Medical Director

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