Masks have become vehicles of political and religious debate. Some feel the government is overreaching and too controlling. None of us like being told what to do, and many feel that COVID-19 is simply a political tool to control us. I’d like to offer a different alternative; we are living cautiously, we are heeding the advice of our medical providers, we are protecting our high-risk friends and family and we are taking steps to do our part to keep the economy open. We have been social distancing and wearing face coverings since March. We cautiously select activities that we feel are safe for our family and we wear face coverings when distancing isn’t possible.
I manage a local accounting firm that provides employment for more than 150 individuals. We provide financial services for thousands of small businesses and worked tirelessly to provide crucial help to businesses in obtaining access to financial help over the past four months. Yes, I am concerned about the effects of shutting down the economy again, but I’m even more concerned about rebuilding consumer confidence to make having an open economy effective.
It doesn’t help to keep the economy open if we don’t feel safe interacting within that economy. Goldman Sachs has estimated that 90% mask usage will save the U.S. 5% of our GDP this year — a trillion dollars. Would you wear a mask for a year if someone paid you $3,000? That is the estimated annual economic savings per person in the U.S. from widespread mask usage. For a family of five, you have the ability to inject $15,000 into the economy by the simple act of wearing a mask in public. This only works, however, if we achieve that high cumulative mask usage as a community.
Another reason I’m passionate about this topic is because of my involvement in a different type of community. I have had the blessing for the past 14 years of working with a number of chronic illness communities with members across the country and have seen many who have contracted COVID-19 — some asymptomatic, some with a mild case, some who are still recovering and some who have lost relatives. I have seen enough to know this isn’t a hoax. Sadly, it seems that if we haven’t personally known someone who has gotten sick, it just doesn’t seem real or like anything more than the typical flu, and it’s harder to be inconvenienced by it.
But there is one other area of COVID-19 that no one seems to mention, too, and I think it is one of the most concerning areas. Right now, nationally, we are seeing a death rate of around 4%. We are told that by wearing masks we can protect others from our own respiratory droplets. I protect you, you protect me. While the death rate may seem low to some, the thing that concerns me the most is the word “recovered.” As I understand it, this means that the patients are no longer testing positive for COVID-19 — but many of them have now joined a community that no one would ever willingly choose.
The community is chronic Illness — a community where patients have to seek and research to find their own answers. A community where they are met by doctors with blank expressions and shrugged shoulders — where the patient is treated like a hot potato, being tossed from doctor to doctor. A community where gaslighting happens every day and where patients are accused of faking symptoms by family, friends and the medical community. A community where expressing pain makes you a drug-seeker. A community where parents are reported to child protective services when doctors can’t find answers; where people are lonely because friends and families walk away because they are too sick to do things. A community that is largely overlooked by society — because illness makes people uncomfortable. A community that has fought for accommodations and often does not get them. A community that is often denied the disability support that was designed exactly for them.
That community is going to grow — and there will not be easy answers or fixes for these people who before COVID-19 were living healthy, “normal” lives. Wearing a mask is not hard. Living with a chronic illness is hard. When you get home from your errands or your job, you can take off your mask. Chronic illness doesn’t let you take a day off.
Please look outside of yourself — look to the good of others. Instead of looking at a mask as being political, or an assault to your freedoms, look at it as an act of love for your neighbor.
It just might end up protecting someone you love.
Jonyce Bullock is CEO of Squire & Company, PC and office managing partner of the Orem office. Darlene Matelski is the founder of the MALS Awareness Facebook group created in 2017 to support those suffering from median arcuate ligament syndrome.