Get Over It. Wear A Mask

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Let’s not mince words here.  We need to be wearing masks if we have any hope of ending the pandemic early.

Yes, I’m willing to acknowledge those who claim the pandemic hasn’t been politicized are being willfully ignorant or flat out lying.  You are also correct if you point out that some of the original guidance issued months ago advised against masks. 

You can even make an argument that the government doesn’t have the authority to mandate you wear the mask.  It’s an argument you will lose, but make it if you must. 

Instead of getting into citations of the federal Constitution which relegates non-enumerated power to the states or to the people, and then quoting the versions of the Georgia Constitution which allows for measures to protect public health, we’re going to cut through that.  The most succinct argument about the government’s power to mandate wearing masks comes from Southwest Airline’s CEO Gary Kelly.

Kelly, during an interview with CNBC discussing mask mandates, indicated he thought the mandates should go beyond air travelers, with a rather common sense observation. “You have to wear pants. Why can’t we mandate that you have to wear a mask during a pandemic?”

Suddenly, without warning, those protesting mask mandates just became in favor of public nudity and against indecent exposure laws.  Libertarians are likely comfortable with this position.  Conservative Republicans are probably not.

In Georgia, you’re currently free to choose either way.  With this freedom comes responsibility.

In March, faced with a growing threat to public health and a healthcare system operating beyond full capacity in some areas, we shut down much of the state’s economy, moved schools online in a somewhat haphazard manner, and even closed many government offices to the public.  The goal was to “flatten the curve”, and give our healthcare system and supply chains a chance to catch up.

Now, we again find ourselves approaching a shortage of critical care beds.  Statewide, Georgia had only 14% of critical care beds open to new patients this weekend.  Public health officials get nervous when that number dips below 25%, and get especially worried when it crosses 20%. 

Source: Georgia Situation Report of 8/2/20

The number in some areas is even worse.  “Region N”, whose hospitals serve the 1.3 million residents of Cobb, Cherokee, Paulding, and Douglas counties, had just 7 of 214 ICU beds available for new patients.  Region H, which covers almost 300,000 Georgians spread over 17 counties including Baldwin, Bleckley, Dodge, Hancock, Jasper, Johnson, Montgomery, Laurens, Pulaski, Putnam, Telfair, Truetlen, Twiggs, Washington, Wheeler, Wilcox, and Wilkinson counties, reported just 3 beds out of 40 available.

This isn’t flu season, when hospitals would expect to see a capacity like this.  Quite the opposite.  A failure to contain the spread of Covid-19 now means bigger problems for the healthcare system, the economy, and for resumption of normal activities such as in-class school instruction and live sporting and entertainment events.

Thus far, Georgia has not mandated as a state that masks must be worn.  This shouldn’t be a debate about a mandate.  It should be about making personal decisions based on the best data available.

The state has reactivated a makeshift hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center.  It’s less than ideal, but based on current trends, patients could soon need somewhere to go beyond what our hospitals can supply.

Wearing a mask may make you feel like you look silly.  Knowing the data of Georgia’s ICU capacity, and the understanding the consequences to the economy if we have to again shut down businesses to stem the spread of Covid-19, it’s much sillier not to wear one.

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