Hartman, Stan (2020, County Health Officer)

Stan Hartman

I am writing to address measures that are necessary to slow the spread of the virus known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but commonly COVID-19. I want to discuss face masks, in particular.

COVID-19 can be transmitted on hands and objects, but mainly it is transmitted through the air, in microscopic droplets of moisture that all of us breathe out, whether we are awake or asleep. Even without symptoms, people with the infection can spread the virus just by breathing. Coughing, sneezing or singing also spread it.

Infected individuals create clouds of invisible droplets that can infect others around them. As many as 80% of infected people have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, and do not know they are spreading the infection. This makes control of transmission extremely difficult.

Most infected people do well, but some unlucky individuals land in the hospital or on a ventilator, and some die. Most of these people are older and have other medical conditions, but many are young, healthy people, and some are children. An 11-year-old child died recently in Florida. So far in the U.S., COVID-19 has killed three or four times as many as influenza does in a typical flu season.

With no vaccine, there are only three ways to limit the spread of infection. All three of these are necessary together.

• Social distancing – stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not members of your household.

• Frequent hand washing and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces.

• Face coverings (masks) when near other people in public areas.

Unfortunately, masks have become a political hot-button issue for many people, who regard them as an infringement on their individual freedoms. To get past this, we must separate the politics from the science.

There is overwhelming support in medical and scientific literature showing effectiveness of face coverings in reducing the spread of COVID-19. A mask worn by an infected person with no symptoms greatly reduces the shedding of the virus into the air, thus protecting others.

The mask also provides some protection to an uninfected wearer.

Here is a little science that anyone can do at home. Go into your bathroom and breathe on the mirror. Even on a warm day, the mirror will fog up. Those are the droplets that carry the virus if you are infected, even if you have no symptoms.

Now, put on a cloth face covering and breathe on the mirror again. It will not fog, because the covering stops the flow of droplet-filled air from you to the mirror.

Another example: turn on a small lawn sprinkler. It sprays droplets in all directions. Now cup your hand over the sprinkler. No more droplets! This simulates a mask. There is water around the sprinkler, but it stays there, at the source.

Any establishment that is open to the public (business, church, clinic or hospital) has the legal right to require proper attire and behavior of anyone on their premises. We have all seen signs that say “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” In the midst of a global pandemic, these establishments have the right to add “no mask” to the list of exclusions. Note: certain medical conditions or disabilities may require an exemption.

Some establishments that currently require visitors to wear a mask include Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, most clinics and medical offices, many private businesses, the Laramie County Library and the County Health Department. People who refuse to comply may legally be denied entry.

Nearly all businesses in the county require their employees to wear masks, which helps protect their customers and other employees. However, these same employees are not equally protected from customers who do not wear a mask. As mentioned, masks are highly effective at limiting transmission from the wearer, but less so at protecting the wearer from others.

Sadly, the establishments that require a mask often endure verbal abuse, intimidation and attacks on social media. CRMC and the county library have had to station security personnel at their entrances to control rude visitor behavior.

Wearing a face covering in public, especially indoors, is a sign of respect for those around us. “I am wearing this to look out for you. Please do the same for me.” This is how we work together as a community to stop the spread and get back to normal life. I myself wear a mask whenever I enter a store or other business. If I can do it, so can you.

So, please put on a mask when in public around others, or when required to do so by a business or other establishment. This is just common courtesy, and will help keep our economy open and our people healthy. Nobody wants to shut things down again. We have a common enemy, and it is COVID-19.

If anyone wants to see some of the scientific literature supporting this, let me know. I can send you as much as you want to read.

Dr. Stan Hartman has practiced medicine in Cheyenne since 1986 and currently serves as the health officer at the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department. He can be reached at shartman@laramiecounty.com.

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