Wearing face masks save lives

A.J. Morrow of Numinous Coffee Roasters in Marble Falls does his part to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 by wearing a mask. Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Jules Madrigal says wearing a mask saves lives and can keep people out of jail. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Wearing a face mask saves lives, saves jobs, and can keep you out of jail.

It’s that simple.

“Masks really do work and masks make a difference,” said Dr. Jules Madrigal, a physician and the Burnet County Health Authority. “In countries where they have mandated people wearing masks, there’s a one hundred-fold decrease in the number of deaths due to COVID-19.”

Madrigal emphasized that a face mask needs to cover the mouth and nose to be effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mask works by lowering the spread of respiratory droplets from the wearer. In other words: A person wearing a face covering is protecting OTHER people from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and vice versa.

In both of her jobs, Madrigal spends up to 16 hours a day on the front lines battling COVID-19. Sometimes, this means taking care of infected patients; other times, it means notifying people who have come into contact with someone who tested positive for it. 

As some people deny the seriousness of the pandemic, Madrigal counters with reality.

“The thing is, (Burnet County is) having a really big surge right now,” she said. “It’s not due to (more) testing. It’s community spread. I have patients who have it, but they don’t know how they got it or who they came in contact with they might have got it from.”

As of June 24, Burnet County has recorded 105 total cases of COVID-19 and three deaths. In the four days since the June 20-21 weekend, Madrigal said the county recorded 50 new COVID-19 cases as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 25. The state’s tally for the county might not reflect that number because it is usually three to six days behind. State officials are swamped as well, Madrigal said.

“(COVID-19 is) rampant,” she added. “People need to protect themselves and others, and that means wearing a mask.”

For those concerned that wearing a mask will cause health issues due to rebreathing their own CO2, Madrigal said that’s not the case. 

“It doesn’t cause an accumulation of CO2 because of the permeability of the mask,” she said. “The molecules of CO2 are way, way smaller than virus molecules, so the carbon dioxide gets through the material.”

And, she noted, masks made of permeable material such as cloth don’t deprive the body of oxygen. Madrigal and her staff have taken oxygen readings on themselves after hours of wearing masks, and their oxygen levels never dipped below 97 percent. After wearing a mask for six hours straight, Madrigal checked her own oxygen level, and it was at 98 percent, well within the normal percentage of 95-100.

Other protective steps are washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, staying home when possible, and practicing social distancing when out in public. 

Texas also has recorded a steep rise in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases since June 16, though the climb started more steadily June 2. On June 23, Texas reported 5,489 new cases; the next day, 5,551.

And those are new cases, not a cumulative number. In total, Texas has 131,917 reported cases and 2,296 deaths as of June 25.

The jump in COVID-19 infections has caught the attention of Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced June 25 he was pausing any further reopening phases. Businesses permitted to open under the previous phases can remain open and at the limits and capacity already set. 

“As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texas to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” the governor said. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.”

Madrigal supports rebooting the economy, letting people return to work, and allowing individuals to enjoy social interaction, but, she warned, we must do so in a health-minded manner. Which, she reiterated, means people should wear masks when around others. 

COVID-19’s effect on people varies widely: Some never show symptoms; some exhibit one or a few symptoms; and some are ravaged by the disease, which damages their pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. Though only about 8 percent of people who are infected by the virus require hospitalization, Madrigal said the number jumps quite a bit for those who exhibit a more extreme infection.

Wearing a mask, she pointed out, limits the transmission of the virus, which, in turn, saves lives and protects other people’s health.

Wearing a mask also can help keep the wearer from being quarantined.

“This is another thing I don’t think people understand,” Madrigal said. “If you come in contact with someone who has tested positive for it, you have to quarantine for 14 days.”

And it’s not just doctor’s orders; it’s a legal one with criminal repercussions. Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, a person who violates a quarantine order could face up to a third-degree felony, punishable with a prison term of two to 10 years, and a fine up to $10,000. And while the order is working its way through the legal system, a judge can have the individual held in custody. The court can also order a person who violates quarantine held in a secure hospital facility in Bexar County.

However, Madrigal said, this can be avoided.

“If you’re exposed to someone who has COVID-19, then you have to quarantine for 14 days. But if you were with the person less than 10 minutes and because both of you were wearing a mask, you don’t have to quarantine,” she said. “So, if you go out without a mask, you’re not just putting people’s health at risk, but you’re jeopardizing your job, because if you land in jail, your employer may let you go.”

And getting a negative COVID-19 test a few days into quarantine isn’t a get-out-of-quarantine free card. It takes up to two weeks for the virus to become active in a person, so taking a test two or three days after exposure doesn’t mean a person isn’t carrying it. Plus, Madrigal said, the two days before a person begins exhibiting symptoms is when their ability to transmit the virus is at its highest. That’s even if a person exhibits symptoms. 

If a person is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, Madrigal recommends they get tested. And if you’re quarantined, then stay quarantined, she said.

Madrigal is aware of how politicized face masks have become. As a doctor, she knows wearing one is backed up by medical experts and science. 

“People really need to understand that wearing a mask isn’t political, it’s about their health. It’s something we all can do to stop the big increase in cases and keep our economy open,” she added. “Just wear a mask, please. It does save lives.”

Find a COVID-19 testing site on this interactive map from the state of Texas.

daniel@thepicayune.com 

2 thoughts on “Face masks can save lives, legal fees

  1. Corey, I think it is all about the risk of exposure. With both people wearing masks, the risk of exposure is quite low, but goes up the longer you are exposed. Even 1 minute is not risk free, but up to ten minutes the risk is acceptable. It usually takesa certain number of germs inhaled to cause infection, and masks cut that number down to where it is unlikely to cause infection without prolonged exposure.

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