By Dr. Ted Noel
On June 18, Orange County Florida Mayor Jerry Demings (husband of Democrat VP hopeful Representative Val Demings), ordered that all persons wear masks whenever in public places. I am very familiar with masks. I wore them daily for 36 years in my medical practice. This order has the usual caveats and carve-outs, but is totally unnecessary and counter-productive.
The term “COVID-19” has become a way to cause panic – unreasoning fear. The order is worse than useless. It presumes two things.
- There is an actual medical emergency
- Masks are an effective response to that emergency
Neither is true.
When Mayor Demings’ initial emergency order was issued on March 13, it was prima facie logical, since there was an appearance of a national medical emergency. Since then, Governor DeSantis’ management of the epidemic has shown that we can easily protect our vulnerable population while allowing our society to re-open. Suddenly, the identification of 316 new cases in one day has thrown up a red flag. “We have to act! Now!”
The order ignores key facts. First, the initial wave of cases primarily involved the elderly and infirm, those most vulnerable to COVID-19. We know that over ninety percent of all deaths occurred in patients over 80 years old who had multiple significant medical conditions. They were also in closed spaces with prolonged close contact (over 15 minutes). We now know how to protect the elderly and infirm. The general wearing of masks is not part of it.
The current crop of cases involves a much younger demographic, ages 18-35. Mortality from COVID-19 in this age group approaches zero. COVID-19 is a radically different disease in the older and younger groups. So treating them the same is medical nonsense. And treating COVID-19 as some sort of unique emergency is equally nonsensical. Yet we treat this virus as if it were Medusa, turning anyone who looks at it into stone.
According to the CDC, we have had between 39 and 56 million cases of influenza during this current flu season. We know about roughly 2.2 million cases of COVID-19 in the same time period. Current estimates show that roughly half of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, and thus don’t get tested. So there may be (rounding up) as many as 5 million total cases. That means there are roughly 5-11 times as many influenza cases as COVID-19. And influenza is roughly as deadly as COVID-19, since we are dramatically overcounting COVID-19 mortality.
While influenza has killed upwards of 62,000 people this year, it targets a somewhat different population than COVID-19, with young children and pregnant women also in the crosshairs. This means that the demographic currently being exposed to COVID-19 has substantially more risk from influenza than COVID-19. So we shouldn’t worry about this exposure.
Patients under the age of 60 account for 77.6% of all COVID-19 cases, but only 15% of deaths (California data). That’s one-fifth the risk of patients over 60. If we look at patients over the age of 80, they account for 5.8% of cases, but 46% of deaths – eight times more risk than the general population. Any sensible doctor would say that we should focus our efforts there, exactly as Governor DeSantis has done.
Finally, the idea that masks are protective for the uninfected general population is simply false. Even though the CDC makes a show of recommending them, there is no science to support it. Cloth masks allow 97% of virus particles to penetrate, in contrast with high quality N-95 masks, which actually block 99.7% of viruses. But N-95s leave large numbers of virus on their outer surfaces, leading to contamination of the user if care is not taken in removing the mask.
This entire COVID-19 exercise is a classic case of straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel. The first concern is very simple. Even though 120,000 deaths sounds enormous, we have to compare that to all-cause mortality in the US. We lose around 8,000 people every day. In fifteen days we have lost as many people to all causes as we’ve lost to COVID-19 in total, even if we accept the wildly inflated numbers from the CDC. That’s because we have 330 million people in the US. Many die every day simply because nobody gets out alive.
In Orange County, we have about 1.35 million people. To get herd immunity, we would need a bare minimum of 270,000 people to recover from COVID-19 infection (20% of the population). At the “panic level” of three hundred new cases every day, that will take two and a half years. In short, it’s not a problem. We need far more new cases than that every day. We need something like the rate of influenza cases. And we need them in the younger, safe population, just like we’re beginning to see.
Waiting for an effective vaccine is a fool’s errand. We don’t have vaccines for SARS or the common cold, both of which are coronaviruses. While multiple vaccine development programs seem hopeful, we simply are not guaranteed success. The only constant in scientific inquiry is that you cannot guarantee an answer. But there is a very effective way to build immunity. We don’t have to do anything at all.
That’s right, we need to engage in a policy of benign neglect. Casual exposure, such as experienced by Dr. Jeffery Singer, can create infection without illness, as seen in the majority of all coronavirus cases. Those who are infected and recover then become a barrier to further spread of the disease. Ultimately, the herd will become immune and the virus will recede into the background of multiple diseases that we encounter but no longer fear.
We’re missing perspective. By focusing on a single scary number, we aren’t missing the forest for the trees. We’re looking at a little sapling in a forest of giant redwoods. It’s time to wake up and understand that if you breathe air, you’ll die. That doesn’t mean that air is toxic. It means that all the living will die. We must stop paralyzing ourselves with fear.
I don’t know that I won’t die in an auto accident on the way to the golf course. That doesn’t keep me from golfing. And I won’t let a completely irrational fear of what is actually a pretty ordinary disease keep me from seeing my grandkids and great-grandkids.
Human association creates far more health than COVID-19 creates illness. It’s time to “get a grip.”
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