The following commentary by 2020 SLMMS President Dr. Jason Skyles appeared in the View Point section of the St. Louis Business Journal on August 21, 2020
Mask up … Because it’s the right thing to do
Jason Skyles, MD
2020 President, St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society
The COVID-19 pandemic has most certainly upended our economy, our community and our everyday way of life. In medicine it has changed how we deliver health care services and impacted all of our practices. Until there is an approved medication to treat or a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, our focus is on providing necessary services while minimizing risk to our patients, our co-workers and ourselves.
One of our best prevention strategies available now is simple and straightforward – the wearing of face masks to help prevent the spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people wear face coverings in public settings when social distancing cannot be adequately achieved. Multiple studies published over the last few months have concluded that mask wearing was associated with reduced risks of infection; further research indicates that states that imposed mask mandates saw declines in new cases greater than those who did not.
Despite this evidence, why do we still have individuals refusing to wear face coverings during a pandemic? Why do we witness people wearing a mask to enter a business that requires them, but removing them once they are inside? Perhaps it’s because mask wearing is simply not well understood.
Covering your mouth and nose with filtering materials serves two purposes – it protects you from inhaling harmful materials, but more importantly it also helps prevent you from exposing others to infectious droplets that might be expelled during normal conversation or respiration. Think of it this way – if given the choice between having surgery performed by a team not wearing masks vs. a team that does, it’s safe to assume all patients would prefer the team with masks. It’s widely accepted that face coverings under these circumstances reduce the risk of surgical site infection that could be caused by droplets generated during the surgical team’s conversations or breathing. Face coverings do the same in blocking transmission of COVID-19.
Yes, there have been confusing messages during the pandemic. Initially, face coverings were only recommended for those who were symptomatic prior to isolation or awaiting test results.
But as data emerged that documented transmission of COVID-19 from persons without symptoms, the recommendation was expanded to the general community. Some people are carriers of the disease for a few days before becoming ill; others never show symptoms at all. But no one is immune, and older adults and those with chronic conditions are the most vulnerable.
In my own medical practice, a health care worker recently tested positive for the coronavirus. But because of routine mask wearing and other preventative measures, no other employees were infected. The media has widely reported the case of the two infected stylists at a hair salon in Springfield, MO. But because both were wearing masks, none of their clients tested positive.
The physicians of the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society are calling upon our business leaders to set the example in your organizations. We need to make mask-wearing more socially acceptable. We need to educate those who challenge the mandate and overcome their objections. We need people to understand that face coverings are intended to protect others, and should be worn properly covering both the nose and the mouth.
Mask mandates are not a violation of your personal freedoms and it’s not the government attempting to control you. Mask wearing is a matter of social decency.
And for some, it just might be the difference between life and death. Quite simply, when combined with social distancing, frequent hand washing, and limits on large gatherings, it’s our best available path to controlling the pandemic and returning our society and economy to normal.
Jason Skyles, MD, is a diagnostic radiologist in practice with West County Radiology Group at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, and the 2020 President of the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society.