The maddeningly bizarre social media food-fights over the value of face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19 won’t end just because Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb mandated Hoosiers to wear them.
Still, any rational person had to be convinced — or, at the very least, persuaded — after listening to the physicians participating in Holcomb’s weekly news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Holcomb was surrounded by doctors with extensive experience in practicing medicine and public health work.
“While the guidance on masks has changed throughout this pandemic, there are a growing number or studies that support wearing a cloth face covering to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana Department of Health’s chief medical officer and a practicing physician in Methodist Hospital’s emergency department.
Dr. Daniel Rusyniak used the most detail. His face mask story was vivid and might unsettle folks eating breakfast as they read his comments. But his description may be, pardon the pun, just what the doctor ordered.
“A few weeks ago, while working in the emergency department, I had a pretty significant COVID exposure,” Rusyniak explained. “Without getting too much into the details, I had a patient who had a massive coughing spell that literally spewed moisture directly in my face while I was doing a COVID test. And what became very clear very quickly, especially as my glasses fogged, was that the only things separating me from the millions of airborne particles of coronavirus were my glasses and my face mask.”
After that episode, Rusyniak, an ER doc, the FSSA’s chief medical officer, and a professor of emergency medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, self-quarantined for two weeks and was tested. His COVID test came back negative and he never developed symptoms.
“So while a face mask is not foolproof, and in a similar setting I would have been better off with an N95 mask or a face shield, I am convinced that the only difference between me being home sick, or worse in a hospital sick, and me being here today is that I had on a face mask,” Rusyniak said. “So, please, please wear a mask. It might just save your life.”
Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, who works in Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital emergency department and serves as Indiana’s secretary of the Family Social Services Administration, responded to Facebook chatter about masks decreasing oxygen intake, increasing the inhalation of toxins, shutting down the body’s immune system and even increasing risks of contracting the virus.
“Old, crusty surgeons have worn masks for 12- to 18-hour cases in a row, for complex ways that they save our lives, working on your brain, working on your heart, working on all kinds of other things,” she said.
“That doesn’t matter if it’s a cloth mask or an N95, or an N95 with a mask over the top; you can breathe in and out with those, just like you can without one on. So, no worries about toxins. No worries about carbon dioxide retention.
“There’s lots of reasons to be scared right now; masks are not one of them,” Sullivan added.
The governor ordered mask wearing after reported cases in Indiana reached 5,169 in the past week, more than 7% higher than the previous peak in April, and after he’d seen Indianapolis Star photos showing only about 20% of residents wearing masks.
Holcomb wants to prevent the need to roll back the state’s reopening, the closing of schools again and a rise in coronavirus deaths. “I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve seen it around the country. I know how it ends,” he said. “And we’re trying to change that ending, for real people.”
Let’s listen to the doctors and mask up.