Do you and your family members wear seatbelts in a car? Do you have appropriate car seats for your baby or toddler? Do you have smoke and carbon dioxide detectors in your home? Have you avoided smoking, or been successful in quitting? If unable to quit (understandably difficult), do you distance yourself from family, friends or strangers when your cravings force you to light up?
We all deal with inconveniences and interruptions to keep ourselves, our families, our friends, our community and total strangers safe, and to mitigate relatively low risk. We hope that others would similarly be considerate of us.
It alarms me to see inconsiderate behavior in our community, reflected in some letters in your newspaper. I must echo Carl Singer’s letter (“We Should Be Wearing Masks” June 11, 2020) in response to the prior week’s “Are Masks Really Necessary?” The anonymous author quoted an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that discussed universal masking in hospitals; the quote stated that “We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection.” This throwaway statement is made with no peer-reviewed reference to back it up. The anonymous author concludes erroneously, “So, it seems, medically speaking, wearing a mask when you are out for a walk is not medically necessary.”
SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the ongoing pandemic, is new and, as such, many features and epidemiological facts are not yet fully known. Many hypotheses have been proposed based on experience with other viruses including other coronaviruses. With further observational data, many “facts” get dismissed. So what do we know for sure, and what’s an educated guess?
We know that the disease gets transmitted by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic persons, predominantly via aerosolized respiratory droplets and particles that contain virus, inhaled by the next person. We know that breathing, speaking, yelling, singing and sneezing can project particles/aerosol up to 14 feet, according to demonstrated models. We know that aerosol/particles can stay in the air indoors for between six and 14 minutes; we presume that outdoor environment affected by wind, temperature, humidity can decrease this time and the distance. We know that young and old can get terribly sick and can die, despite physical fitness and general health, or lack of “risk factors.” We know that children are not exempt from getting infected. It is suspected that even the asymptomatic children can transmit to adults, especially family members.
We have seen an increase in infections/hospitalizations occur in states that have “re-opened,” relaxed restrictions, despite the “expected” seasonality effect. New York and New Jersey continue to see decreases because of the continued vigilance.
Our elected leaders, the scientific community and public health officials have come up with recommendations based on the best information available. Our religious leaders in the RCBC took the hard decision to lock down our community based on available information, and communication with governmental officials and healthcare experts/physicians. They have saved many lives! Their careful and well-reasoned plan to restore minyanim is appropriate and will also save lives. But their planning/guidelines cannot work if we in the community ignore the guidelines. Public gatherings are limited in size to contain infection. Even though the size limitations have been eased, the other recommendation of wearing masks and of maintaining at least six feet of social distance remain in effect.
I have personally seen people without masks walking friends to a minyan. They put their mask on for minyan as prescribed by RCBC/shul rules, but then linger after davening, schmoozing with masks off, in close proximity. I have seen the manager of one of the open businesses in our community walking unmasked, up and down his aisles, talking on his cell, mask eventually placed on to check out a customer. The store also had a customer walking around inside with no mask. I observe a daily organized playdate, with carpools dropping off many kids to play sports (no masks at all) and with no social distancing; kids taking a breather on steps, shoulder to shoulder, schmoozing and enjoying an ice cream break. I have seen many people walking around town maskless, or mask on their chin, or under their nose; they stop to talk to others without distancing themselves from their friends and often may block sidewalks or streets preventing others from walking past with social distance.
So what can we do? We all want this to be over and get back to our normal lives. We all want to go to shul, schmooze with our friends, enjoy a kiddush, welcome a new baby into the world, celebrate a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, dance at a friend’s wedding, give a hug and personally comfort someone who lost a family member. We are all tired and ready to return to our former lifestyle. My wife thinks I’m burnt out and have PTSD from seeing so many body bags and refrigerated morgue trucks that were necessary at the peak. (I work as a radiologist at a New York City safety-net hospital, and though my patient-care role is predominantly indirect, I have seen hundreds of COVID-19 cases with deterioration too often—including “young and healthy” patients). I have seen many healthcare workers, colleagues including doctors, nurses, technicians and other hospital workers get ill, some significantly, and some die.
You have no right to endanger others with carelessness!
What we can do is to remain vigilant. As infection can be transmitted by absolutely asymptomatic anyone, it is prudent to maintain the social distance, and please, please, please wear a mask. It doesn’t fully protect you, but it protects others by limiting the dispersion distance of any virus in mostly containing the aerosol/particles coming from mouth and nose. And if you wear your mask, and I wear mine, we protect each other and the community. And, the sooner we get the virus under control, the sooner we can get back to normal. So please do the right thing!
And to the editor: I am not asking you to censor any opinions, but I do think it appropriate to add an editor’s note below your published letters. I do think it is responsible in this pandemic to state that despite the letter writer’s opinion to the contrary, that the CDC and public health official guidelines still recommend mask wearing and maintaining social distancing. You have the power of the press to help save lives and to help the community get back to normal more quickly.
Thank you!Jay Hochsztein, MD