I understand. During the past weekend I read many articles and watched numerous video clips that provided contradictory information on how to protect our families from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the debate rages on about protecting our American values and freedoms from authoritarian dictates of public health officials and political leaders.
Should we wear masks when in public places?
Most public health experts and many political leaders are saying “yes”. However, there is a growing group of citizens who argue against it on constitutional, religious and some rather bizarre logic including a woman who spoke at a Palm Beach city council hearing in Florida.
“I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear, things gotta breathe.”
How about hand washing?
A couple months ago we were told to wipe down groceries and mail when we brought it into the house. Later we were told this was not necessary—the virus may be detected on these objects for up to three days, but it was not viable. (At least we can now all agree that drinking bleach is a really, really bad idea.)
How about large public events (more than 100 people)?
We have seen public events (peaceful protests, religious services and political rallies) attended by thousands of people without social distancing and masks. Good idea or bad idea? The answer seems to depend upon which cable news channel one happens to be watching.
Droplet or aerosol?
A major controversy emerged this weekend within the scientific community. Is COVID-19 being transmitted via droplets or aerosol particles? For the past several months, we have been told it was the larger droplets expelled from coughs, sneezes and even breathing, but that it required extended exposure (10-20 minutes from someone who was infected). Now we are told the virus may be an aerosol (3-5 micron size) that could remain suspended in the air for an extended period. This would mean the virus could be transmitted more like measles. If a person infected with measles left a room and a person without immunity walked in 30 minutes later, they could become infected.
So, what to do, whom do you believe?
I am neither a scientist nor physician, and have no degrees in public health, but I have worked in the field of pandemic preparedness policy for 25 years. I also have one other qualification—I have been playing poker, very successfully, for 60 years. I do everything I can at the table to get the odds in my favor. Getting the odds in your favor is the best advice I can provide to best protect your family from this pandemic.
The following is the advice I give my family and friends. It is based on a great American tradition—common sense. This is the same strategy I recommended in my 2007 book, OUR OWN WORST ENEMY. Bob Schieffer of CBS News commented, “Larsen advocates a seldom-used tool to fight terrorism—common sense.”
Whenever outside your home and in an indoor public facility, wear a mask. A scarf, bandana or surgical-style cloth mask is sufficient. You wear it to protect those around you. This is critically important since 20-40 percent of those infected with COVID-19 have no symptoms, and for those of us not personally involved in the droplet/aerosol debate, it makes no difference who is right. Wear a mask. Many of my friends and family members served in the military. It was a public service. I don’t think it is asking too much for all Americans to perform a small amount of public service by wearing a mask. I fully support personal freedoms, even the young woman in Palm Beach who prefers to go commando, underwear may be optional…masks are not.
The debate over hand washing in the scientific community rages on. That is the nature of scientific inquiry. However, the advice you likely received from your grandmother makes sense—wash your hands. There is virtually no down side, other than dry skin and that is easily managed with hand cream. This is a habit that should remain part of our culture after the pandemic is gone. It will help during flu season and will reduce the cases of food poisoning—what many people refer to as “intestinal flu”. Nearly 50 million Americans get food poisoning each year, 120,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. That is more deaths each year than we experienced on 9/11. Wash your hands!
Large Public Events
I do not recommend attending such events unless social distancing and masks are required, and I would limit the number of events one attends. Once again, consider the odds and return on investment. Going to church—with social distancing and masks—or an outdoor get-together with family or friends–with social distancing—may be a risk you decide to take. Going to a concert, bar, indoor sporting event, political rally or demonstration where social distancing and masks are not mandatory will guarantee the spread of the virus and increase the risk for the elderly and those with serious medical conditions.
On July 7, Randy Larsen discussed these issues on the Jim Bohannon Show