The June 16 Lancet study, along with others in the past few weeks, echoed earlier warnings with chilling similarity. These bits of critical evidence offer a road-map out of this wrong-turn reality.
Only time will tell if the west gets woke or goes the way of the Romans (read How Climate Change and Plague Helped Bring Down the Roman Empire).
The evidence shows we underestimated face coverings. Officials advised mask-wearing after symptom-free spread became apparent, but they emphasized it with the fury of tepid water and beige sweaters.
To quote the authors who studied cloth masks, “When used as double-layers, textiles were as effective as medical mask/surgical-cloth materials, reducing droplet dispersion.”
Put another way, two layers of fabric may work as well as a surgical mask to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus.
Misinformed people have condemned mask-wearing as cowardice, but the primary benefit of masks is not protecting the wearer. They stop you from spreading it to others, something that happens before feeling unwell.
That’s the problem with this virus and why staying home when you’re sick won’t stop it.
A June 3 study estimated that 40% to 45% of virus-infected people might have no obvious symptoms at all. That won’t stop them from spreading it to others. If we wait until we feel sick to don a mask, some of us will unknowingly infect others, sometimes many others.
Mask-wearing stops you from infecting others. Even people who show symptoms may spread the virus silently in the time between catching it and feeling sick, as long as 11 to 14 days.
Masks help significantly. The most recent study clarifies that we need masks and contact tracing, something used in the U.S. for sexually transmitted infections where we notify those exposed so they can act accordingly.
The existence of other similar programs has done little to quell fantastical conspiracies. Outsourcing work to phone apps to offset our public health shortage never inspired much hope. That Americans would oppose seemed like a given.
Contact-tracing may be the only practical way we join the countries doing well.
The spread is extensive and society cannot suffer anymore distancing. Tracing doesn’t have to be perfect.
If we contact trace 70% of contacts, it might be possible to control this within three months. Maybe we only get 50% — that’s better than we’re doing now.
Given that most Americans supported distancing measures — whether they liked them was another issue entirely — I like our odds that people will react responsibly to hearing someone exposed them to SARS-CoV-2.
Our current strategy suggests a belief that we can wish this away COVID-19. Perhaps some mistakenly thought reopening our country meant our economy would return, but that’s another misunderstanding that spread faster than the virus.
Distancing and other methods for controlling spread don’t cause a long-term economic downturn, but not controlling an outbreak has long-term consequences.
Long-term should concern us because that is our future. Cities that acted slowly in response to past pandemics, suffered significantly longer economic recoveries.
Pandemics, and not the distancing measures, hurt the economy. MIT commented on the study saying, “U.S. cities that responded more aggressively in health terms also had better economic rebounds.”
Only controlling the virus offers economic protection.
It’s why Sweden’s economy still suffered, despite more lax policies. Our economy reflects our approach to the virus, so we must stop allowing the virus to invade every American alive. Why do we resist the precise means by which we secure our economy?
When you buckle your seat-belts, the odds are that you won’t need it because most drives don’t end in a crash, but the cost of not using one is great enough that we wear it. Admittedly, a seat-belt mostly protects the wearer, while mask-wearing aims to protect others, but the law still mandates that you wear a seat-belt (Seat-belts may still protect those around you, just as masks likely reduce the risk of acquiring the virus).
If we want out of this dystopian night terror, we must set aside differences and accept our reality.
We can use strategies that have helped other countries regain a normal life. Other countries will not include us in their economic and travel bubble if we cannot rein in this plague, and that may hurt us further.
We need universal mask-wearing (or face shields, which may be more comfortable) and coordinated sophisticated contact tracing. We could mobilize tracers quickly from the newly unemployed demographic, giving them jobs while helping our nation.
Not believing in gravity won’t exempt your body from its power. America can and will crash hard, whether or not we believe it.
Whether America goes the way of Rome depends upon our infrastructure and economy. If we love this country, we must combat the virus laying waste to it, not look away — that is the cowardice.
If we let our nation crumble, don’t feign surprise when we fall along with it.