Last week my family braved a flight to Boston to drop my twin sons off at college, donning our masks and stocked with plenty of hand sanitizer. Like many milestones in the era of COVID, this was not the start to college that we imagined.
The on-campus population was limited to incoming freshmen like my sons. They’ll get a brief taste of the college life for a few months, then after Thanksgiving, they’ll spend the rest of the school year distance-learning from home. Their school made this choice to make space for the senior class, who’ll spend time on campus in the spring as they cap off their college experience.
In order to attend in person, my sons had to sign and abide by a “behavioral pact,” where they promise to practice social distancing, wear masks, wash hands frequently, and all the other common-sense do’s and don’ts that are becoming a reality of pandemic living.
I couldn’t help but wonder, if teenagers are expected to abide by a behavioral pact, why can’t we all do the same thing? Why are we seeing new videos every week of grown adults having epic meltdowns over wearing masks? Why won’t these adults do their part so we can get our economy running and all of our kids back in school?
Just a couple months ago after a steady decline in cases, COVID-19 surged in our emergency room again with a record number of admissions. But after state and local leadership tightened the reins and rolled back our reopening, we’ve thankfully seen the numbers stabilize and improve. Today the daily case rate in the county is less than half of what it was when numbers spiked in July.
However, the situation can quickly change again if we let our guard down.
Right now there is a lot out of our control, but we can each make individual choices that will make the difference in ending this pandemic.
When you are in public, give others space. According to a study by The Lancet medical journal, just three feet of distance can lower the chances of catching the virus to below 3 percent. Staying 6 feet away can cut the transmission risk in half to 1.5 percent.
Keep your celebrations and interactions socially distanced or remote. We all miss our friends and family outside of our quarantine bubbles, but large gatherings are still prohibited in California. Los Angeles is going even further, and shutting off utilities at houses openly defying social distance guidelines by throwing big parties and putting everyone’s health at risk.
Even smaller gatherings with a few friends and family members can be risky. According to the County Department of Public Health, several outbreaks from early July were traced back to smaller events.
Finally masks, masks, masks. Not only do you protect others when you wear a mask over your nose and mouth, but your chance of catching the virus if you are exposed drops 65%.
In fact, if 80% of people wore their masks, we could reopen stores and businesses. Yet many people, especially young people, are still not wearing masks consistently. Apparently they have not heard that the number of young adults with COVID quadrupled in the month of August, making young people second only to 30-49-year-olds in the number of positive COVID tests.
Yes, the disease seems less brutal to people under 30, but there are long-term negative health effects we are just beginning to understand. And you never know if you or someone you care about will be one of the unlucky few.
And please, wearing your mask below you nose or even worse, around your neck, does not help anyone.
The longtime refusal by national leaders to acknowledge the facts about mask-wearing has emboldened some people and confused countless more. But by now, there’s ample evidence that masks work.
Just because some of our leaders are misguided, doesn’t mean we have to be. We know that unlike other respiratory illnesses, there is a huge risk of transmission from people who have not started feeling sick, and up to 40% of cases may never show symptoms. For many it can take as long as two weeks between exposure to the virus to starting to feel sick.
That’s why masks matter. We could be feeling 100% healthy but still put an elderly relative’s health at risk if we don’t take simple precautions.
An added bonus to continuing to wear masks: avoiding the flu. Last spring the flu went away overnight when we went into lockdown. Reports from the southern hemisphere where flu season has already begun, show that it’s light this year. We know that wearing masks and practicing social distancing are a huge factor in this. This isn’t an excuse not to get your flu shot–get that, too!
We know masks work. Keep them on whenever you’re not at home. Keep social distancing. It’s a simple thing we can do that’s good for our families and our community. It’s our fastest way back to the workplace and classroom.
As a mom who does not relish the thought of her two (wonderful, but let’s face it–teenaged) sons spending college at her house, let’s help control this pandemic and get our young people launched into a healthier, more prosperous, and more open world.
Dr. Elaine Batchlor is the chief executive officer of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Watts.