As of December 5th, there have been 281,878 total deaths and over 2,000 deaths daily. The U.S. has had a 48 percent increase in deaths compared with two weeks ago. Despite COVID-19 infections increasing exponentially, many still don’t believe in the efficacy of masking and social distancing. The most disturbing part of this is that there is still a large minority of health care practitioners who don’t support masking.
I’ve witnessed multiple health care providers discouraging masking, especially on social media. These posts are detrimental to the public as a whole. Hundreds and even thousands of people view and share these posts. If someone currently has misinformation on masking or has concerns about wearing one, seeing a health care provider attack masking causes them to double down on their false beliefs. In turn, they now not only put themselves at risk for a COVID-19 infection but others around them.
Criticizing masking has led to thousands of needless deaths. There have been an estimated 130,000-210,000 avoidable deaths due to the pandemic. The lack of masking guidance and masking mandate has been cited as one reason why the death toll has been incredibly high.
Masking is a simple yet effective measure to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. It’s also not a new concept. We’ve been masking in patients’ rooms on airborne or droplet precautions to prevent the spread of infections. Today, we are in a unique situation where we need to mask in public at all times. For some reason, there are still health care providers that object to this. The only downside to masking is slight personal discomfort. Frankly, it’s selfish that one would put others at risk due to their own discomfort.
Health care providers downplaying the severity of COVID-19 has been a serious issue. Unfortunately, I’ve seen health care practitioners tout how mild their COVID-19 symptoms and even going so far as to say that COVID-19 is only a ‘cold.’ For many, COVID-19 isn’t just a ‘cold’ and to call it such is criminal. As a palliative care doctor, I’ve had many patients lose their lives to the virus. These aren’t just the elderly; many of these patients would’ve had decades left to live. They leave behind grieving loved ones whose lives will never be the same.
It’s hard to say why some health care workers don’t believe in the efficacy of masking or refuse to mask based on personal rights. There has been some correlation that political beliefs sway an individual’s opinions on masking. The Pew Research Center observed that only 29 percent of Republicans believe that masks should be worn at all times versus 63 percent of Democrats. It’s important to note that partisanship may not be the only factor at play though.
As health care providers, it’s our responsibility to promote health and safety. If you are a health care provider who doesn’t do your part to prevent COVID-19 infections, you don’t belong in medicine.
Kristina Scanlan is a palliative care physician.
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