Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, used the word “altruism” when speaking Monday morning about masks before members of the House of Delegates’ Health and Human Resources Committee.
It’s the perfect word for the current situation — doing something entirely for the good of others with no personal benefit in mind. It also reestablishes the entire concept behind wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, which can sometimes get lost in all the heated debate about the topic.
As Marsh explained, the surgical masks or cloth face coverings Gov. Jim Justice mandated to be worn at indoor facilities or when social distancing isn’t possible, don’t prevent the wearer from contracting the virus — something those against wearing masks will often point out. But they do keep mouth and nose droplets formed during everything from conversation to shouting about why you should or shouldn’t wear a mask from escaping and entering someone else’s body.
Simply put, wearing masks protects others. If everyone wears them, then they do prevent the spread of the virus, just not in the way some perceive.
That’s a crucial bit of understanding that is essential for making this whole thing work. As Marsh explained Monday morning, 50% to 70% of infections occur before the person who transmits the virus has exhibited any symptoms of COVID-19. So stopping the spread before someone feels ill or tests positive is paramount.
The state’s new public health officer, Dr. Ayne Amjad, informed the committee that the Bureau of Public Health will be pursuing a public information campaign to get more West Virginians to wear masks. It’s mandated, but there’s no penalty for not doing it, so, as Amjad said, the bureau needs to find out why those who won’t wear masks have made that decision, because everyone is “part of the equation.”
She’s right. This virus has now killed more than 135,000 Americans and made millions more seriously ill. A vaccine is months or even a year away, and there’s still a lot public health officials don’t know about the long-term impact of COVID-19. Even if those who won’t wear masks don’t feel like being altruistic, perhaps they can be persuaded that if everyone is wearing a mask in situations that require them, they’re not just helping others, but themselves as well.