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5-Shot Friday for 8/6/20: About Those Masks - Why You Should Wear One - by Dr. Peter Kim, MD

Aug 07, 2020

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5 Shot Friday

5-Shot Friday for 8/6/20: About Those Masks - Why You Should Wear One - by Dr. Peter Kim, MD

Welcome back! This is a special addition to my 5-Shot Friday series.

As a healthcare provider, I’ve largely bypassed the brouhaha surrounding today’s mask issue. Mask use has been a part of my professional life since medical school, and while it took some getting used to – it’s hard not to scratch your nose after you’ve scrubbed-in to an operating room – wearing a mask for hours at a time quickly became a non-issue. Even having asthma, it was never an issue.

That’s not how it is for many these days, and that’s a shame. There are misunderstandings about the science behind mask use during the COVID pandemic, as well as arguments that have more to do with politics and symbology than safety. Every single healthcare worker you’ve ever seen or ever will see has worn masks extensively during their training and practice, for reasons that have everything to do with protecting patients like you, and nothing to do with social standing, political leanings, or personal principles.

Think about that for a moment.

We physicians take the 2500-year-old Hippocratic Oath and at every turn, the profession trains us to put the health and well-being of the patient above any profit to the provider. When we recommend doing something like wearing masks, it’s so you yourself personally won’t get sick and die. It’s not the most elegant use of language, but it cuts through a lot and that has always counted for something.

99% of healthcare provider mask use is about protecting the lives of our fellow human beings – preventing my germs from infecting your body – and occasionally about protecting me from your secretions splattering into my face. Measures like sterilizing instruments between operations, washing hands, and – who knew? – mask use became a thing because a half a dozen world conflicts and one respiratory virus pandemic ago, a startlingly large number of people died because doctors were passing infections to and killing their patients. And we generally try not to do that.

It’s an excellent example to follow. Try to not kill innocents around you, especially when it takes something simple like strapping on a piece of cloth.

There are those who will question the science, who may be confused by all the swirling opinions out there on “aerosols” and “droplets.” If you’re among them, please watch the following video, it addresses the questions in a clearer way than I can, it’s doctor-approved, and it’s sharable if you’re into social media:

If you prefer to consider things through a business lens, consider this: in the many countries that have driven their COVID cases down and returned to a semblance of normalcy (e.g. South Korea), mask use is a key feature of their success strategy, in addition to physical distancing, widespread testing, contact tracing and isolating identified cases. Translation: it’s part of THE winning, already-proven-at-scale strategy. You could fight it and walk backwards as you try to reinvent the proverbial wheel, but why? Is that an expense you can really afford?

And finally, if you consider mask use a matter of debatable principle, well, I’m not sure that’s something that physicians can really address. We’re not immune to matters of principle: the word medical goes together with the word ethics like peanut butter and jelly. But history is full of examples of the loftiest of principles leading to all kinds of suffering and destruction. Remember that “It’s the principle of the thing!” usually translates into “It would make way more sense to do X, but I’m going to choose it-makes-no-sense-Y because there’s this IDEA that’s more important.” Ideas have value but so does not getting sick and dying, and so does not getting your fellow human beings sick and dead.

That’s the ancient principle that doctors focus on, and we recommend that you do, too.

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