No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service

As I began the interview with Karen, it became clear to me that she was grateful for us squeezing her in. She was sitting in her car and mentioned that she had spent the past four hours trying to find somewhere to be tested. She spoke under her yellow mask. She stated that she felt well, but received a call from her hair salon that she should be tested for COVID. Apparently, when her hair salon reopened, she was one if the first people to return. The salon called her to inform her that someone at the salon had tested positive and that she may have been exposed.

“I bet it was these two young people,” she said. “They weren’t even wearing masks!” 

I gave her an incredulous look. “There were people there that weren’t wearing masks? Why not?” I asked.

“The manager told me that she couldn’t force them.” Of course, this isn’t true. They very well could’ve made them, but the business was worried about losing out on the client. It shouldn’t come down to a choice between getting sick or not getting a haircut.

With the surge of cases in Florida and other parts of the country, masking has again become a controversial point of contention. What science and studies have beared out is that masking does save lives by reducing the transmission of the virus. In some studies, masking can reduce transmission by as high as eighty percent. In no other country is masking even a question, which begs the question why it has become such an issue now. 

Truth be told, I had my own reluctance about masking policies. During my medical training, we were taught that the use of surgical masks did not help in terms of self protection from infection. In addition, the use of a mask can be a potential vector for transmission of infection. But widespread, ubiquitous masking makes sense for several reasons. This is because if everyone wears a mask, it reduces the distance that aerosolized respiratory droplets can travel. This in combination with social distancing will slow the spread. With the reopening of most of this country, it is crucial that every practical effort should be made to slow the spread.

The studies that presented the case for masking were observational and were limited only to healthcare settings, not community, so they were, by no means, the gold standard of studies, but considering the skyrocketing rates of infection of COVID, physicians are making the best recommendations based on the available data out there. The CDC’s shifting position on masks may be part of the reason that there is some skepticism about people wearing them now, but please remember that this is the first pandemic of the modern era and we were unfortunately unprepared for it. As more is learned about this virus, recommendations may possibly change.

To be clear, masks are not an unreasonable request. Masks are as reasonable as asking a nudist to wear clothes in public or asking a smoker to only smoke in a designated zone. Physicians are not asking people to take a pill or ingest anything for a means to prevent the spread of this virus. If the alternative to a mask is to be forced
into a mandatory lockdown due to rising cases and shutting down the economy again, masks don’t seem that bad. 

We need to differentiate the difference between the science and the politics of this issue. Unfortunately, we are living in an extremely tumultuous period of time, where every act is tainted with political
animus. By wearing a mask, suddenly, I’m a liberal snowflake that’s fearful of dying from the virus. If I don’t, I’m a conservative fascist that doesn’t believe all the made up media hoax about it. There is nothing in between.

But the reality of this virus is that it does not hold a political agenda. There is a very real body count associated with it. Positive tests are on the rise that is disproportionate to the amount of actual
testing that is going on. In other words, this is a very real problem and it is currently at our doorstep. The protection that a mask offers is not primarily to the individual wearing it, but to the community that the individual lives in. We all need to do our part to keep this economy open and to keep our loved ones alive. 

Now, the manager of Karen’s hair salon has a very distinct decision to make. Either all her clients practice masking or risk a possible shutdown due to virus. Seems like a pretty obvious choice to me.

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