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Masks are for health, not politics

 

Last updated 7/20/2020 at 12:52pm

Dr. Kevin Harada, MD

In these difficult times, politics are the last thing we need.

Over the past two weeks, we have seen a significant change in Hill County. Our cases have surged to 30-plus and counting. We now have what appears to be community spread. And we see that it is affecting anyone regardless of age. Montana has also seen a surge in cases and a surge in hospitalizations. This was to some extent expected, but what we do next will help shape our outcomes, for better or worse.

Through the beginning of COVID-19, Hill County has had a buffer against the full effect of COVID-19. This has led to some skepticism about the severity of COVID-19. What we are seeing now is that we are not impervious to this infection or this pandemic.

There has been hot debate about the recent mask directive from Gov. Bullock. For full disclosure, this article is being written by a physician who, in the beginning of this pandemic, resisted universal masking at Northern Montana Hospital.

When health decisions become political, we all suffer. The masking issue is not a red vs blue issue, but in my humble opinion it is a mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, and a neighborly issue. We are fighting a virus without known treatment (some experimental treatments have limited availability); without a vaccine; and that is new and unknown. Therefore, our only defense is prevention. Currently the COVID-19 mortality rate is approximately 10-20-times seasonal influenza. Key word, "seasonal." We usually see influenza for approximately six months out of the year. We are now dealing with a virus that is not seasonal and is in fact escalating its infection rate in our summer months. This virus is going to be with us for the duration of the pandemic without seasonal relief. This should grab your attention. We will soon be dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with our normal influenza and cold season. We must prepare.

In the beginning of the pandemic, there was some ambiguity about whether or not a mask should be worn outside of the healthcare setting. Some of these decisions were influenced by the shortage of masks available to the health care providers who needed them most. With supplies improving, the public has been asked to wear a mask. It has been known for a long time, that if masks are used properly, they can decrease rates of some infections. Masks have been used in the medical field for centuries, but widespread public use has not been a mainstay in the United States for the sole reason that we have not seen this severe of a pandemic in over 100 years.

Does a mask even work? This question is asked over and over. Short answer is yes, but let's review our current COVID-19 situation; no widely available treatment options, no vaccine, limited resources. Why wouldn't we take every step to try to prevent this disease? Why wouldn't we err on the side of caution to help protect our more vulnerable neighbors, friends, and family members? Even though the mask issue has become political we have the ability right now to change the narrative and make it a human issue.

Why wouldn't we take every precaution? Why wouldn't we protect our neighbors and loved ones? Why wouldn't we try to limit the risk of having our small business shut down again? I have seen the crisis protocols that have been developed with the help of state and local ethics committees. I have seen the limited resources that rural hospitals have. I have seen people die of respiratory failure on a ventilator. The question is simple; will we protect our neighbors? Will we protect our parents and grandparents? Will we protect our essential workers when they are at work? My answer is unequivocally yes.

My hope is that we drop the politics, lessen the divide, come together, and watch out for each other ... and wear a mask.

Kevin Harada, MD

Internal Medicine

Chief of Staff

 

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