Lewis Carroll wrote that Alice in Wonderland “had never forgotten that, if you drink from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.” It was good of Alice to remember that precaution because not everybody would have gone to the trouble. Some people would never check the label; others would decide the label must be wrong; still others might know the label is correct, but believe that surely no harm could come from just one little sip! 

Yes, harm could come! Even if the poison doesn’t kill you, it can make you very ill for a long time. Really, should any of us take that risk? Especially, should we take it if we know our being poisoned would very likely poison our family or the elderly or those already weakened by another disease? Would not our human concern for those others have us checking labels so we don’t drink from poisoned bottles? Yet, many of us do something similar when we ignore the major rules of social distancing during this time of the COVID crisis: wear a facemask, maintain a 6 foot distance from others, and wash our hands often. 

Nobody’s perfect. We all slip sometime, but that’s different from the general violation of these rules that seem to becoming more common all across our local socioeconomic and ethnic spectrum. The most visible of these violations is the failure to wear a facemask including, if wearing one, failing to wear it properly (over mouth and nose). 

The failure or refusal to wear a mask might be due to a person’s believing the threat of the COVID virus is overstated or that the threat has diminished. Consider this. COVID-19 is still being detected in our community and infected persons with no or very slight symptoms can go about their lives unaware they’re shedding virus particles (virons) as they go. Dr. Erin Bromage, an academic immunologist referencing previous work with other coronaviruses, has noted that a single cough or sneeze from an infected person can release up 200,000,000 virons, yet the infectious dose of the COVID-19 virus might be as little as 1,000. Even breathing normally, persons with other flus can shed roughly 30 virons per minute. That may not sound like much, but when you do the math, you can see that you only need to be near the infected person for an hour to reach the 1,000 viron dose. 

My point is not that we precisely know these things about the COVID-19 virus, the point is that coronaviruses are easily spread by people not knowing they are infected. A person wearing a face mask helps protect themselves from the virons inadvertently shed by others; but, more importantly, if the person shedding virons is wearing a mask, they are doing their duty to help prevent others from getting the same disease. Please wear your facemask in public. It is a symbol of a common people in a common cause. Let’s do this fight together!

Terry T. Turner, Ph.D. 

Professor Emeritus    

University of Virginia School of Medicine

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