Keep wearing masks. Masks save lives

Courtesy of Dr. Crutchfield

It is quite odd. Why has wearing a mask become a political statement? It certainly is not a political statement to use seat belts, wear a helmet when riding a bike, wear a life jacket on the water, or to install smoke alarms on our homes.

There are approximately 10 million people worldwide, infected with the coronavirus. Of those, 25% of the infections are in the United States. Currently, 125,00 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus.

Almost 1,500 have died in Minnesota. In the past two weeks, nearly half of the states have reported a record number of new cases of coronavirus. One prominent infectious disease specialist, Dr. Aileen Marty, recently commented at the record-setting number of new cases across the U.S.: “We are moving a million miles an hour in the WRONG direction. We need to get this back under control.”

Additionally, most experts think that there will be a second wave this fall. In error, President Trump believes that if he no longer talks about the coronavirus, or fails to wear a mask, it may disappear. The President claims that the increased numbers are due to increased testing.

In fact, he recently stated that he had told his team to “Slow down the testing because positive tests just make the U.S. look bad.”

Unfortunately, the number of hospitalized patients has gone up, too, and that number is not affected by increased testing. To hold a political rally and have 6,000 attendees not use social distancing or wear masks is the pinnacle of irresponsibility and selfishness.

Aside from the lack of pandemic leadership in February, perhaps President Trump’s current lack of attention to the pandemic is a result of his focused efforts to comfort the country in these times of national distress and turmoil resulting from ongoing brutality against black citizens that came to a head with the George Floyd police lynching.

Or perhaps Trump is incapable of leading when one realizes that his first comments to the nation during these racially critical times. Evidenced by his invocation of the old bigoted trope “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” originally pronounced by Walter E. Headley, the racist police chief of Miami, Florida, in response to an outbreak of crime in the winter of 1967.

Or maybe it was his suggestion that he would call in the U.S. military and turn them on the protesting American citizens. All-important military leaders in the country firmly opposed this comment. 

President Trump has put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the Trump administration’s ‘Coronavirus Response Team.’ Unfortunately, they have not given a formal public briefing in well over many weeks. At the last briefing, President Trump suggested drinking bleach may be a treatment for the coronavirus.

Experts around the world were shocked by the glaring ignorance of his comments. We have not had a press conference update since, yet the pandemic rages on in America. People need to be reminded that the reason many states are opening businesses up is not that the pandemic is over; it is because they have sufficient beds in the ICU to treat infected patients.

Interestingly, wearing a mask protects those around you, and when others wear a mask, it protects you by trapping any aerosolized particles in the mask. A mask must be worn correctly. The mask must cover your mouth AND NOSE! When you wear a mask is shows that you respect the people around you. 

In one of the strangest twists, Vice President Pence (the head of the ‘Coronavirus Response Team’) and President Trump have conspicuously refused to wear masks in public. This goes entirely against the government’s own CDC recommendations and demonstrates a total lack of respect for the people around them.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the face of the national effort to deal with the coronavirus crisis, recently commented, “When you look at the proportion of people that get into serious trouble and die, again, it’s going to be disproportionate towards the African Americans.”

When I asked myself, “Why is the Black community getting hit so hard by this?” I realized that the Black community has been burdened by poor health for a long time. If you consider pre-existing conditions such as obesity, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and overall decreased access to healthcare, and now you compound it with this deadly disease, it’s no surprise we will get hit harder. Medicare data shows that Black Americans are hospitalized from COVID-19 at four times the rate of Whites.

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves, relatives, friends, and fellow citizens is to wear a mask. Make sure it covers your mouth and nose.

Remember:

  • When going out, ALWAYS wear a mask.
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly and sanitize home surfaces susceptible to being touched.
  • Don’t touch your face!
  • Always practice appropriate social distancing.
  • If you are not feeling well, stay away from people until you doctor says it is OK to be around them again.

Many people have COVID-19 and don’t even know it. These people are called asymptomatic shedders, and they can potentially spread the virus by coughing and sneezing. People may also spread it by breathing heavily into the air, even when they don’t feel sick.

This is similar to the phenomenon that occurs when a person breathes on a mirror, and it fogs up. That’s aerosol. Nearly any masks will block aerosol that carries the virus from the breath of asymptomatic shedders.

Dr. Fauci, our nation’s leading expert on the topic, has said that up to 50% of people may be asymptomatic shedders. That is, they are spreading the virus without being aware of it. Wearing a mask to trap the aerosol-containing coronavirus particles has tremendous upside potential and minimal downside. 

While social distancing alone can help, the aerosol effect from asymptomatic shedders makes social distance practices combined with mask use critical. 

For a great tutorial by Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, on making a mask at home, please visit www.CrutchfieldDermatology.com/facemask. This isn’t just about the individual in the mask. Think of the mask as protecting you as well as all of your friends, relatives, at-risk people, and anyone else who may be vulnerable to the virus.

Dr. Fauci said that it is not a matter of “if” we will get a vaccine; it is a matter of when it will be available. There are dozens of global companies working around the clock trying to develop a vaccine. Optimistic estimates suggest an effective vaccine may be available in the first half of 2021.

In the meantime, doctors are using disease-modifying treatments like Remdesivir (an antiviral medicine, first developed to treat Ebola, but now shown to have positive benefits against Covid-19),  convalescent plasma from recovered patients and anti-inflammatory medicines like dexamethasone to improve patient outcomes. 

The most important things we can do is wear a mask, maintain an appropriate social distance, and wash your hands. 

I agree with my dear friend, Dr. Julius Butler, “Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is an I.Q. test.”

When we all wear masks, we all will do better. 

Masks save lives. Keep wearing them. 

About Charles Crutchfield III MD

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of biology at Carleton College. He also has a private practice, Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan, MN. He received his MD and Master’s Degree in molecular biology and genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Minnesota Medicine recognized Dr. Crutchfield as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. Dr. Crutchfield specializes in skin-of-color and has been selected by physicians and nurses as one of the leading dermatologists in Minnesota for the past 18 years. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. He can be reached at CrutchfieldDermatology.com or by calling 651-209-3600.

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