Forum Editorial: For God's sake, North Dakota, wear a mask
Everyone should wear a mask when going to the store or in other indoor settings where safe distancing isn’t possible. Period. Unfortunately, early in the pandemic leading health officials instructed people not to wear masks. That was a misguided effort to preserve N95 masks, which were in critically short supply, for health-care workers and first responders.
North Dakota is losing ground in the battle with the coronavirus. We now rank highest in the nation in per-capita cases of coronavirus infection, averaging 42 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period, 3½ times the national average of 12.
We don’t hear a lot of self-congratulatory talk of “North Dakota smart” these days. Nor should we.
The spike in cases means that Fargo public schools are approaching the threshold that could trigger a shift to all-online instruction. An assessment will be made on Monday, Sept. 21, to decide whether any changes are in order.
It’s true that the increase is driven mostly by younger people, who are less likely to develop serious illness and require hospitalization — but that doesn’t make them any less infectious.
And the rise in cases, which has been steady and stubborn since late summer, is apt to get worse — very possibly a lot worse — as fall progresses and turns into winter.
That’s all the more alarming because the coronavirus pandemic will be intensifying at the same time that influenza season will hit, along with other respiratory viruses, all more prevalent in the colder months.
So far, North Dakota’s hospital capacity has not been strained by the pandemic. But that could change if we don’t get the spread under better control. We don’t want to find ourselves in a nightmare scenario where hospitals get overwhelmed.
If that happens, deaths will spike and a return to lockdowns could become necessary. Nobody wants to see that. The cost in human misery from sickness and death and economic catastrophe is too great.
There are no silver bullets. But there is an effective solution that requires very little cost and only modest effort: wearing facemasks.
Everyone should wear a mask when going to the store or in other indoor settings where safe distancing isn’t possible. Period.
Unfortunately, early in the pandemic leading health officials instructed people not to wear masks. That was a misguided effort to preserve N95 masks, which were in critically short supply, for health-care workers and first responders.
Then the message was we should wear masks to prevent infecting others, but not to expect any prevention benefits for ourselves. Now science is showing that masks do, in fact, help wearers to avoid catching the virus.
Even if masks aren’t failsafe, they can at least reduce the dosage the wearer receives — which can make a real difference.
Wearing a mask can mean the difference between getting a mild case or something much worse.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls masks “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” in the arsenal against the pandemic.
Universal mask use could bring the pandemic under control in a few months. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
Vaccines aren’t 100% effective, but masks, worn properly, do the job, he said.
For some reason, too many people just won’t accept that message. Many have convinced themselves that COVID-19 is like the flu. It isn’t. The mortality rate of COVID-19 runs from 2% to 3% in the U.S. — far higher than the 0.1% death rate common for the flu.
Although some people don’t get any symptoms, or only mild symptoms, others get severely sick or die, with long-term breathing problems and fatigue common.
Scarily, we’re now learning that even those who don’t have any symptoms can develop heart damage. So COVID-19 is much, much worse than the flu.
We have to get past our reluctance to wear a mask. It’s a minor inconvenience — but the single most effective step people can take to prevent the greatest public health crisis in a century from becoming much, much worse.
Wear a mask. Prove that we’re North Dakota smart.