As the number of active coronavirus cases has grown more than fivefold in the last month in Johnson County, it begs the question, what are we waiting for?
The vast majority of medical practitioners, including Dr. Mark Schueler in Buffalo, Sen. John Barrasso, MD and every county health officer save one in the state of Wyoming agree that wearing masks, social distancing and good hand washing hygiene are necessary in order to stem this pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and every other infectious disease agency in the United States, and indeed the world, agree.
So, what are we waiting for?
Are we waiting for our hospital to be overwhelmed with patients? It is rapidly approaching.
Are we waiting until there are no other hospitals available to transfer heart attack victims or other gravely ill or injured people to? Are we waiting for our friends and loved ones to die because they cannot get life saving medical care?
We are nearly there. Wyoming Medical Center in Casper is full. Billings is full. Rapid City is full. Salt Lake City is full.
Are we waiting for schools to be closed?
We are almost there, too. Schueler has said that once our own hospital has reached capacity, it will be time to consider sending kids home. Already the University of Wyoming and most other colleges have adjourned early for the Thanksgiving holiday and are asking students to quarantine before heading home. They will not resume in-person classes until after the New Year.
Are we waiting for a mobile morgue to house deceased members of our community because there is simply no space?
We hope not. But it is a very real possibility and has been happening all over the country.
When Gov. Mark Gordon asked us all to shelter at home in March, we were proud of the response. People listened and followed simple instructions to stem the spread of this virus.
Have we given up? Is wearing a mask so difficult?
The CDC now says that not only do masks help limit the spread of the coronavirus by asymptomatic carriers, but they also protect the person wearing the mask from contracting coronavirus.
Some may say that’s not what the CDC said back in March. They would be right. But this is a novel virus, meaning it is new to humans. We are still learning about it. But as we study the disease and learn more, we must adapt to the new findings. We expect that scientists’ and physicians’ understanding of this virus, how to take precautions and how to treat it will continue to evolve — that is how science is done.
If you are doubtful that masks work, don’t take our word for it. Don’t even take local doctors’ or state and national epidemiologists’ word. Look to Asian populations that frequently wear masks due to poor air quality.
Japan has a population of 125 million people. They have had on average 1,200 new daily cases. Thailand has 75 million people. They average three new infections daily. South Korea with 57 million people averages 150 new cases per day. Vietnam with 95 million inhabitants has only eight new cases on an average day. For reference, among Wyoming’s 578,759 people, an average of over 530 cases was reported each of the seven past days.
This virus does not care whether you believe the science or not. But those countries that have remained successful at stemming the spread of the disease have done so with masks and aggressive contact tracing.
Will we learn from their success? Or will we wait until it’s too late?
Do yourself a favor, do your neighbor a favor and wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands regularly. Together we can turn things around.