The Importance of Masks

Chamber News

Our president, Bob Durkin, recently collaborated with Dr. Steven Scheinman, president and dean of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, on a column for the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Bob Durkin and Dr. Steven Scheinman

In March, our community’s largest concern about new coronavirus was whether it would cancel the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Now, these five months later, that fear seems quaint. Businesses, schools and churches have been hit with much bigger challenges and are still looking to regain their footing after first receiving the gubernatorial green light to reopen and then being urged to scale back.

Hundreds of businesses, large and small have suffered the economic hardship of closures, restrictions on services, the costs of safety equipment and supplies – and layoffs of good hardworking employees. These business owners and their employees are our families, friends and neighbors. Many are struggling to hang onto their livelihoods, their legacies, their dreams.

A recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that nearly 70% of small business owners fear that another wave will lead to a second shutdown.  For a great many that would signal the end of those dreams of business success and personal financial wellbeing. 

Our community has sacrificed enough and been patient long enough – we deserve a return to some sense of normalcy. Face coverings are vital to regaining that normalcy.

Further, as thousands of students prepare to return to our area and help us to achieve that sense of normalcy, recent scenes of mask-less people gathered close to one another in public settings across the region are distressing and may set us back months after we’ve enjoyed some hard-fought progress.

To state it bluntly: Our only hope of keeping our students here, our businesses open and our neighborhoods on the mend is to follow the safety protocols we know prevent the spread of COVID-19: keep your distance, avoid gatherings of more than 25 people, wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and wear a mask. The reason is simple: the virus spreads in droplets exhaled by a person who is infected. If that person is wearing a mask, others are wearing masks and all are appropriately distanced, those droplets simply can’t infect another person.

The common objections to masking just don’t make sense if our goal is to preserve our freedom of movement. For example:

  • Masks are hot and uncomfortable. It’s true. Isn’t it better, however, to be out in public, shopping, dining or doing something else you enjoy rather than sheltering at home, even if being out means being a bit uncomfortable?
  • Masks should be a personal choice. Think of the things we’ve done together to promote better health. Widely adopting the use of seatbelts has mitigated trauma-related injuries and deaths. Smoke-free public places are a result of a cooperative public health effort. People demand a vaccine for this present coronavirus precisely because mandated childhood vaccines have been so successful at preventing once-dreaded diseases like polio and measles. Masks are a sign of public commitment to stopping this coronavirus in its tracks so we can all regain a semblance of pre-COVID life.
  • CDC’s stance on masks has changed. I don’t know what to believe. In this case, science may be falling victim to its own success. Our doctors and researchers have gotten so good at preventing and curing disease that the public has come to expect overnight solutions. The most startling feature of this coronavirus that it is a novel virus. Scientists have never seen it before. We can make predictions based on other viruses, but those are what all scientific hypotheses are – educated guesses. We know much more now than we did in March . . .  and one thing of which we are now definitely certain is that coronavirus is spread via exhaled droplets. Cover the mouth and nose and those droplets have difficulty spreading. If others are similarly masked, the droplets have nowhere to go.
  • I don’t have any symptoms. If you are young and healthy, you could have COVID-19 and not even know it. Wear the mask to protect those who don’t enjoy such a robust immune system. Our colleges and universities will expect their young and healthy students to don masks.

If you’ve heard these arguments before and remain unpersuaded, consider a philosophical argument, grounded by probability science known as Pascal’s Wager. Even if you don’t believe the mask is stopping COVID-19, isn’t it better to wear it and be proven right than to refuse, infect others and be proven dead wrong? Right now, masks and social distancing are our only weapons against spread of this virus.  The best way – the only way – to avoid a second shutdown is to use them.  To shun masks, gather in large groups, and reopen prematurely is the surest way to bring on a second wave and second shutdown.  It’s your choice.