Desmarais: Make Face Coverings a National Mandate

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Our country requires the immediate establishment of a national mandate to wear facial masks or coverings in public at all times, in any setting in which social distancing measures are not guaranteed.  Any less and we will not be able to reopen the country as safe as possible.  Recommendations are inadequate because no communities are immune to this plague.  Stones have crashed into the sea of the American populace and without dogged mitigation the waves will eventually hit us all. Will we allow it to be a tsunami or can we reduce it to ripples?  At this moment, some rural areas, such as the Delmarva Peninsula, are facing inundation.  Predictably, the most vulnerable are disproportionately represented on the list of victims.  Many of them are poultry workers.  Two million chickens in Delaware and Maryland face destruction without processing their meat because of worker shortages.  The fabric of our country is a complex weave and rural fraying will leave us all hungry and cold.  It is up to us to quickly move through the stages of grief we collectively feel and to be mutually supportive and productive.  Many of us are understandably in the denial or angry stages of grief.  Our differences in this regard are possibly a function of our different local experiences.  Regardless, we must accept this as a threat to each of us individually and our country as a whole.


The Guidelines for Opening up America Again recommend individuals “strongly consider using face coverings while in public, and particularly when using mass transit.”  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain ... especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”  All logic dictates that the recommendation must now become a national mandate.  We know that there are significant numbers of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers that can transmit the virus to others when in close proximity.  Randomized controlled trials demonstrating the effectiveness of therapeutics will not be available likely until early summer.  Effective therapeutics is not a given; it took over ten years to turn HIV into a chronic illness. We will not likely see an effective vaccine until next year and that is not guaranteed.  Masks have been shown to decrease the number of viral particles in the ambient air of users but do not provide complete protection.  Maximum possible protection in a public place is attained only through universal mask usage.  Individual citizens and local governments have varied greatly in the establishment of and compliance with pandemic control measures.  We must plan for subsequent waves of COVID-19 which may be coincident with the influenza season.


As this is written, several states have reopened without mandates to use facial coverings.  More than any other concept, perhaps, freedom defines us and we loathe having it trampled.  But the right to freedom includes the freedom from the fear that grips the vulnerable and the danger they face when they must enter the public to obtain goods necessary for their survival.  Also, it includes the right to work safely.  To deprive others of these freedoms by not requiring facial coverings is itself a form of tyranny.


Rene Desmarais

MedChi Eastern Shore Trustee  

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