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Sunday, April 10, 2022

I love my mask

You should, too

By Will Collette 

Gov. Dan McKee - a waste of space
We are at an awkward moment in the COVID-19 pandemic where even the scientists aren’t sure whether we’re coming to the end or just taking a pause before the BA.2 sub variant or some other mutant COVID causes another surge. But politicians have no doubt that they can once again lift COVID restrictions and make everybody happy. 

Yeah, we’ve seen this movie before. To me, there seems little reason to believe it will end any differently than our earlier cycles of case decline leading to lifting restrictions leading to a critical surge in cases and deaths leading to re-imposing restrictions. 

The US leads the world in the number of recorded deaths at just under one million, roughly one of six deaths from COVID in the world. In Rhode Island, as of April 7, 3524 of our neighbors are dead from COVID. 

But our feckless accidental Gov. Dan McKee has virtually ended testing, contact tracing and for those of you now eligible for a second booster, vaccination sites. Hundreds of Rhode Islanders have died or become serious ill because McKee places the interests of small business above human life. Yeah, Dan, put THAT in your campaign ads. 

Our Health Department director quit in silent protest and she has not been replaced by McKee. I guess who needs a Health Director when ole Danny Boy can just use his gut instinct to decide how to deal with a serious medical crisis. 

What is McKee’s justification? It’s declining rates of infection, hospitalization and death compared to last January when the Omicron variant was beating the shit out of Rhode Island and the whole country. Yes, it’s true that we’ve seen a sharp decline since January. 

But if you want to make a more useful comparison, look at last July’s numbers. That was when we all really did think the pandemic was over because the community infection rate was just over 12 per 100,000. But dropping restrictions left us vulnerable to the Omicron variant that pushed the daily rate to around 6000 per 100,000 in January. 

It’s great that we’ve dropped to less than 200 per 100,000, but that is ten times higher than it was last July when we mistakenly thought we had broken COVID’s back. On Thursday, the Health Department said Rhode Island had 157.5 total new cases per 100K population in the past 7 days. 

We were wrong last July at only 12 per 100,000 to think we were over the pandemic and we are ten times more wrong now. Plus, we really don’t know how bad off we are because McKee has curtailed testing. 

Because COVID testing is way down and Dan McKee and his leaderless Health Department doesn’t seem motivated to find out what’s really happening, public health leaders are finding other ways to track the disease. 

The Boston Globe just released data from samples taken from four large public sewage systems. These new numbers show significant increases in the presence of COVID providing us with an early warning of the next potential surge. 

And Charlestown, just because we don’t have sewers doesn’t mean this data doesn’t apply to us. 

The Globe also reports that the more-contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 now accounts for more than half the new cases in New England.” 

I want the pandemic to end as much as anyone else. However, wishful or magical thinking does not stop infectious diseases. That’s why I still wear my mask when I go to the market even though I am now part of that small minority who still mask-up. 

For the two years we’ve been masking up, we’ve had complainers argue their rights are being infringed, or the masks are uncomfortable. My personal beef is they make my glasses fog up. 

But masking not only prevented even worse COVID fatality numbers, it also shrunk annual seasonal flu rates to almost nothing. I usually get colds or bronchitis during the winter, but none since masking up. Masks can also be helpful for allergies to pollen, pet hair and dust. 

I intend to continue to mask up because it makes sense, given what we’ve about COVID over the past two years. 

I am once again at odds with Charlestown's Trumplican state rep.
Blake "Flip" Filippi. He and ex-ProJo editor Ed Achorn bemoan YouTube
taking down a video for spreading COVID misinformation about masks.
COVID kills. Even if it doesn’t kill you, even if you show no symptoms, COVID can cause serious long-term damage especially to your brain, heart and lungs. Long COVID really sucks and scientists are continuing to find more long-term effects from COVID. 

Masks and vaccines are the two best weapons we have against COVID. They boost your chances by around 95% of either avoiding COVID or avoiding hospitalization and death. I like those odds. 

Even so, we know that you can get a break-through infection or get infected a second or third time. But again, masking and being vaccinated greatly decrease the risk of serious illness or death. 

COVID changes and adapts. Each variant seems to be worse than the one before. Just when you think we’re looking good, along comes a new COVID mutant. So far, all of the varieties of COVID have spread through the air. Each time we have relaxed restrictions, along comes a new version of COVID to throw us back into crisis. 

People with compromised immune systems are living on the edge as long as this pandemic continues. We all know someone who has an auto-immune disease or is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or other illnesses. They are very vulnerable to COVID so mask and vax up not just for you but for them.

In Charlestown, the trees are budding and here comes the pollen. Levels will be high for the next several days Your mask can protect you from pollen, too.