By Monalisa Tailor, MD, Lewis Hargett, MD and Heidi Marguilis
Recently, the physicians of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, the Falls City Medical Society, and local community leaders on the Louisville Metro Board of Health, reached out to our members to get their thoughts on our state’s mask mandate.
I ask every patient I see the same question: “How are you doing with everything going on right now?” Some will tell me about working from home, the struggles of remote education and then share their thoughts about the virus. Some folks say they have been staying home taking precautions. Others will share that they do not know why events and activities have been cancelled or put on hold. The folks who are taking precautions are typically the ones who know someone who was affected by COVID-19. The folks who think it is overblown usually do not know anyone who has had it and don’t understand the need to wear masks. Then they ask, “Have you seen it?”
There is a pause. With a serious look, I reply, “Yes, I have seen it.”
I have taken care of patients who have this virus. It does not care what you look like, how old you are, or what you do. It just wants a host. If it can find any opportunity, the virus will take it. Simply put, being in crowded areas with other people encourages the virus to spread. This is why physical distancing and masks are so important. It helps prevent the virus from having a host.
Unlike other viruses that we know well, patients can have COVID-19 and not realize it because they might not have any symptoms. But the virus will use those opportunities to get passed on to someone else. This is why there was confusion at the start of the pandemic about whether or not masks were needed. By the time the virus showed up at our doorstep, we did not understand that it already had a head start by a few months.
If the virus chooses to cause you symptoms, the initial aspects are subtle; fatigue, fever, chills, loss of smell/taste then progressing to cough and shortness of breath. One patient described it as having pneumonia, flu and mono all at the same time. Another patient experienced shortness of breath simply getting dressed for her appointment with me.The worst part my patients tell me, is feeling like they are unable to breathe at night. Most patients manage these symptoms at home and are able to get through it, but 20 percent end up in the hospital. Another patient of mine was in the hospital for over a month then spent two months in rehab. They were lucky. They survived. Other patients never made it home.
The Importance of Masks
This virus is mean. We do not want you to get it. It is difficult, and we do not want you to go through it. Right now, we have no treatments or vaccines to combat it. The best measures we have to reduce the spread of the virus are simple: limiting our trips out and the people we’re around, staying six feet from others when we are out, handwashing and always wearing a mask.
The British journal Lancet recently compared approximately thirty studies on the use of masks. Study results showed that the group who wore masks saw a significant reduction in the risk of infection compared to those who did not wear masks. This is essential for us right now as cases are significantly expanding in our areas.
A mask can be a nonsurgical disposable mask or a cotton mask with at least two, hopefully three layers to help protect you. I have seen patients with masks representing their favorite themes, teams or patterns. Kids are even expressing themselves with fun colorful masks. One even came in with a mask that lights up. Fun is not cancelled! Put your personality into your face coverings. Make your mask a fashion accessory.
As the president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, joined by my colleagues in the Falls City Medical Society, and the Louisville Metro Board of Health, we urge you to do everything you can to stay healthy. We would rather see you healthy at home or work than sick and in the hospital. Please limit where you go and who you’re around, wash your hands and wear a mask. Masks can help us prevent the spread, but we have to wear them. It’s better to be uncomfortable with a mask on than to be uncomfortable on a ventilator gasping for your life.
–Monalisa Tailor, MD, is president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, Lewis Hargett, MD, is president of the Falls City Medical Society and Heidi Marguilis is chair of the Louisville Metro Board of Health.