Love your neighbor, and wear a face mask

Jonathan Swinton, USU Extension

As we face unprecedented trials of health and economics, many in our community are and will be in desperate need of help from a neighbor. Are you struggling? Is your neighbor?

Economists, scientists and health researchers have identified a very simple and temporary thing you and I can do that will do more to save the lives and economic needs of your neighbor than anything else you can do. It is a small thing that will only cost you a few dollars. It won’t require that you stay holed up in your home. Nor will it require that you no longer support the many struggling businesses in our community. It will prevent the need for future government shutdowns. It will allow you to return to some semblance of normalcy in the midst of this crisis. 

It will be more convenient than the many government laws and standard business practices that exist to protect your health and economic well-being. Let’s explore some laws that most of us are likely grateful for because they protect us. No smoking inside public buildings, using swim diapers on infants and toddlers at the pool, no drinking and driving, chefs and cooks washing hands before preparing food, dentists cleaning instruments between patients and builders following code so structures are safe.

All these examples have one simple thing in common. They are something that a person does to protect another. The simple solution of which I am referencing does the same. What is that solution? It is wearing a face mask when you are in public or around others outside of your home. Unfortunately, face masks have become a political football that is used to illustrate one’s rights or loyalty to political ideology. This delusive interpretation is misguided because such recommendations are no different than the other standards previously referenced. This is the messaging we must adopt — “My mask protects you, your mask protects me.”

Wearing a mask is primarily a means of stopping spread to others. You can spread the virus as a carrier and not have symptoms. If we all wore face masks when we were in public or around others outside our homes the rate of transmission of the virus will be lower than one. This means that for every person that is infected, less than one additional person will be infected. If this happens, the presence of the virus will reduce over time. Currently the rate far exceeds one, which means that every infected person will infect more than one additional person. On this trajectory the virus will continue to spread and gain a larger foothold as we have seen over the past month in Utah. 

Face mask use by all of us will solve this and will slow the spread to a trickle without destroying our economy. You won’t have to wear them forever, just until we get widespread vaccines and/or treatments that will stop the mass deaths. A very small fraction of people have justifiable reasons they can’t wear masks, making use by the rest of us even more important.

Face masks will mean we can go back to work. Face masks will mean we can support our economy again. Face masks will prevent us from another government-imposed shutdown, which will crush our economy. Face masks would have prevented many of the 125,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States in recent months. Face masks will prevent many of the future deaths that will come. If you love your neighbor, if you care about their economic prosperity and if you care about their life, then you should wear a face mask. 

This begs the question: Do you love your neighbor?

Dr. Swinton is a human ecologist and health and wellness expert with Utah State University Extension.

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