Maryann Martindale: Don’t say you support health care workers if you refuse to wear a mask

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heather Miller, administrator for the West Jordan Care Center, leans back as the Utah Department of Health tests staff for the coronavirus on Thursday, May 21, 2020. The testing is part of a plan to test staff at all long-term care facilities, with centers for memory patients and the intellectually disabled receiving priority.

It sounds like a broken record — wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick. But despite the repetition and the pleas from medical professionals, many still refuse. It raises the question of why?

Why, when people who are trained professionals, working in the very field it is to understand the best way to safeguard our health, do we choose to disregard their recommendations?

My daughter was at the grocery store recently. The store has a mandated mask policy and by far, the majority of people I’ve witnessed, have complied without complaint. However, during my daughter’s visit, a woman came in without a mask. The young man who was sitting at the entrance informed her of the mask requirement.

To say she lost her cool would be an understatement. She yelled at the young man, told him it was a hoax, that he was infringing on her rights, and stormed past him into the store. I don’t know what happened after that because my daughter, wisely, avoided her like the plague, pun intended.

First, let’s dispel the notion that this infringes on your rights. It has been stated, ad nauseum, that the government has the right to enact mandates in a public health crisis, and that a private company (like a grocery store) has the right to impose rules about entry, such as no shirt, no shoes, no service. This may infringe on your personal choice, your comfort level, your refusal to care about anyone but yourself, but it does not infringe on your legal rights.

No one likes wearing a mask. They aren’t comfortable, it’s no fun breathing your own air over and over, they are hot, and my least favorite part —it fogs up my glasses. But masks are recommended because they significantly decrease the spread of disease.

If a COVID-19 carrier does not wear a mask and encounters a healthy person, they have a very high probability of transmission. If they both wear a mask, the probability of transmission decreases significantly. Due to the variation in masks, it is impossible to quantify the exact reduction but it is estimated between 30% and 95%.

A recent Brigham Young University study reviewed nearly 150 studies on mask usage and summarized that, “There is now convincing evidence from multiple controlled experiments and field observations that wearing masks reduces the transmission of COVID-19 for healthcare workers and the public.”

I have seen complaints from people that since masks aren’t proven prevent the spread by 100% then why wear them. Do you take your cholesterol medication because it guarantees you will never have a heart attack? Of course not, you take it because it provides a significant reduction of risk. Wearing a mask significantly reduces your risk of being infected or infecting others.

The Utah Academy of Family Physicians and many other Utah health care representatives have pleaded with Gov. Gary Herbert, repeatedly, to issue a statewide mask mandate. It is clear that appealing to people’s better sensibilities doesn’t work, as was evidenced by the embarrassing and infuriating display at a recent Utah County Commission meeting.

The simple wearing of a mask has the potential to save a life, yet the disregard for the health of our immunosuppressed, old, or higher-risk neighbors is staggering. If you truly care about others. If you care about health care professionals, and appreciate their tireless efforts to save people’s lives, then show it by wearing your mask.

If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself this: If masks don’t work, why do health care professionals wear them?

We are asking, again, for Herbert to issue a statewide mask mandate. With the heated discussions over school reopenings, the concerns for the economic impact of another potential shutdown, and the personal impacts on people’s livelihood and health, this is no time to waffle on such a straightforward solution.

There is no conspiracy. There is no hoax. There is only a virus that is killing people. It may not have affected you directly, but that does not mean it isn’t real, it simply means you’ve been lucky.

Maryann Martindale

Maryann Martindale is executive director of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians.