The Great Mask Debate — Are you part of the problem, or part of a solution?

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By Scott Lenhart, Director | Pamlico County Health Department.

Scott Lenhart

BAYBORO – I would like to begin this article with a question to every citizen of Pamlico County. My question to you is: Do you wear a mask when you are in public & around others?

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This question is the result of my thoughts while pouring over the accumulation of data from our community over the last two weeks. During this time, Pamlico County has seen a noticeable increase of individuals testing positive for the COVID-19 Virus.  In the two weeks prior to the date of this article, our County’s Health Department has seen a 110% increase in the number of patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. That is more positive cases in these last 2 weeks, than in the first few months of testing-combined. (COVID-19 testing in Pamlico County started in March 2020.)

During the last two-week period, 19 new cases were reported to our Health Department.  During the interview/tracing process we found that a great many of these positives had something in common.  Many of these COVID-Positive individuals had been to some sort of picnic or cookout where there was little to no social distancing or mask wearing being practiced.

Now, on to my next question: Why? Why would anyone willingly risk endangering the lives/health of themselves, their loved ones, or their neighbors? Each person that you see on the news or hear about on social media that has caught or transmitted this virus while at an event of this sort have all discussed the fact that they wish that they would’ve listened to the warnings offered by numerous health officials and not attended these events.

Yet, we are still finding positive cases at an unprecedented rate, especially for Pamlico County. Until now, we had been very grateful to have been so very “lucky” with regards to this virus. It now appears as though our luck is running out.

If you look back to the end of May, several things occurred:  1) Phase I of staying home came to an end and moving into Phase II with more freedom of movement was allowed by Governor Cooper, 2) the Memorial Day Holiday weekend took place, 3) More businesses opened up, and 4) several types of food establishments were allowed to have in-house dining again — although this was supposed to be done at 50% less capacity than before.  When you add in the fact that there was a scarce amount of social distancing and/or wearing of face masks; the increased number of COVID positive individuals that we have seen in Pamlico County is the clear result. So, the question remains. Why do so many individuals choose to not wear a mask nor attempt to understand what “The 3 W’s” even mean?

During July 9th and 10th I conducted an independent, observational survey at two local businesses.   Food Lion and Walmart.  Over these two days I spent one hour at each store to gather 1st hand information on how many patrons chose to wear a mask.  I found that: while surveying 682 individuals, 240 of them (35.2%) did not wear a mask and 442 of them (64.8%) did wear a mask or face covering.  I must say, I was not expecting a high percentage of compliance.  However, there are still a number of individuals who are part of the problem.  Would these individuals knowingly & willingly give a highly contagious disease to their family and friends?  I would like to think not; however, that is exactly what these individuals are doing when they walk into these stores without a mask. Without knowing who is and is not infected- and still choosing to not protect themselves at all, they then go home to their loved ones -possibly elderly parents, or sickly children- who may have serious effects should they be infected with this virus.    So again I ask: Why do these individuals refuse to wear a mask? What do they have to lose? Why don’t they see all they have to gain?

I do understand that some individuals cannot wear a mask because of medical reasons.  These are not the people to whom this article is directed. It is directed at those who too often try to hide behind one of the many myths that exist of “why you should not wear a mask,” and I am here to tell you that this is just a poor excuse.  The fact remains that wearing a face mask limits the spread of germs and viruses. Period.  If after all of this, you still do not believe germs are stopped by wearing a face mask, the next time you or your loved one is having surgery, would you tell your doctor, “Feel free to not use any masks while performing my operation. I know that they don’t work to protect me from your germs.” Of course no one in their right mind would tell their doctor that! Yet, that is the nonsense that they are perpetuating with their words, as well as with their actions.

Numerous studies have shown, that wearing a mask does help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  This one protective measure reduces the number of positive infections– significantly.  When combined with other mitigation measures, such as social distancing and washing your hands, it helps to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus even more. By practicing all of ”The 3 W’s” you will be in the forefront of helping to reduce the transmission and the spread of this virus, and your community will thank you.

Please do your share in helping to protect yourself, your neighbors here in Pamlico County, and most importantly your love ones.

WEAR YOUR MASK and Practice “The 3 W’s.”