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No, COVID-19 is not a hoax — and it isn’t going anywhere

A pediatrician’s view on the pandemic, wearing a mask and individual liberty

Registered nurse Beth Ann Friel speaks with Travis at a COVID-19 test center at Intermountain Healthcare’s Salt Lake Clinic on Friday, July 10, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

As a physician, the news about this pandemic is terrifying. Numbers do not lie. We are in trouble and we appear to be doing little to change our course. Somehow, the United States — the country generally considered to be the leader of the free world — is now struggling to keep its head above water. In most states we have increasing cases, and in some states, we risk overwhelming our health care systems.

We have the greatest health care system in the world, yet we have by far the most COVID-19 cases in the world. We represent 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s cases and deaths. We need science to lead us out of this pandemic, and we need to make changes now.

I have heard that coronavirus is a hoax, not real at all, and that wearing a mask is a muzzle or will make us sick. I have heard some say that the economy is more important than our grandparents, that this is all a ploy for money and pharma. I have been told that government leaders closing stores and churches is against constitutional rights and limits personal freedom. I have heard it is no worse than the flu, and it will just disappear. As a medical professional, let me dispel these rumors: It is not disappearing, and it is real. In the past three months we have had four times the number of annual flu deaths and many more hospitalizations. We cannot get back on our feet until people feel safe leaving their homes.

After an initial surge, most countries have gotten the daily case rate down. The U.S., on the other hand, is hitting all-time highs repeatedly. Decisions are left up to states, cities, counties and individual businesses and schools whether they stay open or close; in a pandemic, this doesn’t work. Currently we are experiencing dramatically increasing cases and are doing nothing to get the situation under control. Public health issues must be managed by epidemiologists and public health officials.

Many say Americans will not tolerate a shelter-in-place order. But, we did, and it worked. It kept cases down and helped flatten the curve, but it did not make the virus go away. We opened the economy quickly while we still had cases, and so we have seen numbers increase as we started to get together more in businesses and pleasure.

We do not have a cure. We do not have a vaccine. From this point forward, we have two options only: We can go back to our homes or wear a mask in public. Some research even suggests that if 80% of the population wore masks, it would do more to reduce the spread of COVID-19 than another shutdown would. The forecast from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation indicates that 45,000 lives could be saved in the USA by Nov. 1 if there were a national mask mandate. Goldman Sachs economists said a mask mandate could help the economy recover.

We wear seat belts to keep us safe in the car, get vaccines to protect against illnesses and take medication to help with sickness. Many have guns in their home to protect against intruders and most people lock their doors at night. A mask is no different. It helps keep you and your loved ones safe. The information is clear from scientists and health care providers. Wearing a mask helps your family, your neighbors and our country through this pandemic.

Individual liberty is incredibly important. Choosing to wear a mask does not take away one’s liberty. It says “I care about my family and neighbors.” How each of us acts during this pandemic affects others around us. I wear a mask to keep others safe, and I hope they will do the same for me. We are in this crisis together and we must help each other get through.

Ellie Brownstein, M.D., has worked as a pediatrician in Midvale for the last 22 years. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.