Maskless Wonders

A public health board met recently in Idaho to hear from a public health epidemiologist that the hospital in Coeur d’Alene is essentially overrun with covid patients. Room capacities have been doubled; new beds have been purchased, and everything is full as staff is short-handed and the doctors are worn out.

Additional doctors testified about the awfulness of covid and the health crisis it’s creating right there in Idaho, and how a simple thing like wearing masks can turn the tide. And then the public health board, for which membership requires no medical expertise, voted 4-3 to end a regional mask mandate.

One of the majority, Walt Kirby, was quoted by the Associated Press: “I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not. If they want to be dumb enough to walk around and expose themselves and others, that’s fine with me,” Kirby said. “Nobody’s wearing the damned mask anyway. … I’m sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.”

So there’s that compassionate response, but the honor for best quote of the meeting goes instead to Allen Banks, who makes climate deniers look like amateurs: “Something’s making these people sick, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not coronavirus, so the question that you should be asking is, ‘What’s making them sick?’”

There you have it. People are indeed getting sick, and we can’t possibly know what it might be, and these overworked, underappreciated doctors need to get off their asses and figure it out. And I, with my lack of medical degree, will let them know when they’ve finally figured it out correctly. I probably still won’t want to do anything about it, because wearing a mask might possibly slow transmission of other diseases like colds and flu, but we can’t do anything unmanly like wear a mask and besides, who cares if people live or die? It’s just a damn good thing we’re on this board that cares so much about public health.

Without the fanfare it deserved, our country hit our highest total to date for covid cases yesterday. And as of Thursday night, one presidential candidate was still arguing that this is a “blue state” problem. You know, like Idaho, where all good white supremacists used go to hide out, back in the days when they had to hide.

The other candidate did first point out that the rates are rising highest in “red states,” but quickly pulled back to the big picture: these are all part of the United States, no matter how it doesn’t feel that way, and what we need is a unified, compassionate response that helps everyone. Even though I don’t care whether you wear a mask or not — it doesn’t matter to me if you die.

Mr. Kirby was wrong, though. I mean, his entire comment was wrong wrong wrong, but he was wrong about people not wearing their masks. Sort of.

Carnegie Mellon, which is a university (Science alert! Academic alert! Cover your eyes!) has a project called CovidCast, which is tracking real-time covid data. And their data, not that we care to believe it, shows an extremely clear correlation between wearing masks and tamping down this virus that isn’t covid but it sure is something and y’awl ought to figure it out.

But the other thing their data shows is that in every single state of our great union, the majority of people are wearing masks.

To be sure, there’s quite a difference between 60 percent compliance and 97. One of those is a failing grade while the other gets an A+. But 60 is still above the halfway point. Even the incredibly blue states of the Dakotas, which have been the most pummeled of late (about since two weeks following the Sturgis motorcycle rally, not that I am by any means suggesting any sort of causality), mask wearers comprise 65 and 72 percent of the populace.

Suggesting that maybe it’s mostly morons in power who are making this about the freedom to maim and kill our fellow citizens.

I keep hearing people likening mask usage to seat belts. But this is less analogous to something that protects the wearer than it is something rather like driving on the right-hand side of the road, which we do in this country so as to avoid oncoming drivers. Masks, and driving on the right side of the road, are about keeping others safe.

That’s the part a lot of people don’t get, and while our public health officers were touting our local mask usage (without pointing out it has dropped at least 5 percent since the surveys of a month ago), I still find business after business filled with people who think they can go without them in their own buildings until someone comes in.

For awhile I was thinking, well, this isn’t worth making any huge fuss over, because no one in town has covid. We made it from early September to the last few days of the month without a single reported case. But then numbers started creeping up, one, then two, then one. Then five, suddenly, on Oct. 16, and we had nine over the seven-day total preceding Thursday’s town hall.

The Carnegie Mellon chart, which has Colorado as a whole at 85 percent mask compliance (about what Gunnison’s number looked like in the Oct. 13-14 mask survey, which I’m guessing is taken by watching people go into or exiting larger businesses and not by surveying the employees of any of the downtown places I go, where inside staff compliance appears to be much closer to 0), also shows that masks are not a complete failsafe.

Colorado’s percentage of people with symptoms — I believe this is anecdotal (it may be based on the question, Do you know anyone with symptoms?) — is 21. And 21 plus 85 equals more than 100, suggesting that even people wearing masks can get sick.

Which is what happened to friends of my mom’s. They say they stay home and have their groceries delivered, and yet he tested positive a few days back and she was starting to cough.

There are people, such as the lieutenant governor of Alabama, another “free thinker” who believes people should be free to make their own mask decisions while driving on the wrong side of the road, who come down with covid and insist that they’ve worn their mask everywhere, despite an abundance of photographic evidence showing this not to be the case, but I’m more inclined to believe my mom’s friends, who couldn’t help the contact tracers at all.

Those are the scary stories, the ones where people do everything right and still come up sick. It’s likely because someone else who should have been wearing a mask wasn’t, and their germs slipped past the receiving-end mask.

This would just be so much easier if everyone’s compliance reached that of the District of Coumbia’s (the 97 percenter). And if the Superspreader in Chief ever once in his life paused for self-reflection (ha!), it might occur to him — and his followers in the “blue states” of the Midwest and West now being overrun — that the reason he has to cut rallies short, and doesn’t have the strength to shout down a moderator, and has to layer on the orange to Oompa-Loompa extremes, is because this virus, whatever it might really be, since it’s not covid, can kick some serious butt. (Speaking of butts, when’s the last time anyone saw William Barr in public? At a Rose Garden superspreader event?)

I can’t do a single thing about the ignoramuses on the public health board in Coeur d’Alene, but I am hoping to usher out a lot of deniers on the national stage in one week and some change. In the meantime, buckle up, drive on the proper side of the road — and wear your mask. It’s not for you; it’s for your neighbor.

One thought on “Maskless Wonders

  1. Does population density have anything to do with the map and mask wearing? Because it looks like there may a be a correlation.


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