Finding Common Ground: Let’s talk about masking

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(KOLR) — With the high political climate in our country right now, KOLR10 wanted to invite locals from southwest Missouri to talk about issues we disagree with.

The goal of these segments is to listen to each other and show that we can disagree but still talk and maybe even understand each other.

KOLR10 tried to help both sides find common ground, and in this segment, KOLR10’s Frances Lin sat down with four people to talk about masking.

While some say the government shouldn’t have the power to make people wear masks, others say it’s the best course of action to fight against COVID-19 for now.

The four people KOLR10 talked to are:

  • Dr. David Barbe, a family doctor from Mountain Grove and president of the World Medical Association, and the former president of the American Medical Association.
  • Jennifer Counts, a substitute teacher, used to work in healthcare and also participates in local political activism.
  • Kyle Wyatt, an attorney and radio host.
  • Jed Fisher, president of the Arzee Zebra Project in Marshfield, used to work in healthcare.

“I really appreciate the interest that KOLR has in this. I’ve had the opportunity to go around and speak to boards of alderman, community groups, school boards on this issue. Because it’s very important and it is extremely controversial. But I’ve gathered a great deal of information over the last several weeks, and there are many more scientific studies out now than there were back in February and March when this really first came up. And I think it is pretty clear that the science, clearly demonstrates that masks are effective. I talk about what I call the preponderance of evidence. Yes, you can find a study here or there that questions the effectiveness, but if you look at the vast body of scientific literature, it overwhelmingly favors masks. Favoritism in what I call four categories. There are actual laboratory studies in the laboratory regarding the effectiveness of blocking the transmission of viral particles and droplets. They looked at all kinds of different fabrics and thicknesses, Duke came out with a really nice study, actually shows pictures of the masks that use, and how many particles got through. All of those studies show that masks do reduce the droplet transmission from a person to the outside atmosphere, no question about that. The second thing we have, is what I would call observational studies, that’s wherein communities where there was masking, we can see a distinct reduction in the transmission rate in that population, and that has been looked at over and over again, we have studies going back ten years, mostly in the Asian countries where SARS, epidemic really came from several years ago, ten years ago, they did many studies there, we had studies in the United States, nearly all of them show a reduction in population where masking is used in a significant rate. The third thing we have are case studies, we have one of the most cited case studies from right here in Springfield, the great clips experience, where two of their stylists had COVID, and they had 139 clients come through, none of them got COVID, because the stylists wore masks entirely, and the clients were masked entirely. That is one study, it is an anecdote if you will, but it is a pretty persuasive one. And then the last thing which is relatively newer, and does appear to carry through with COVID, that is, there is some relationship with the severity of the illness based on how much virus you inhale. What we have found is, if you inhale a larger viral load, you are statistically more likely to have a severe case of the illness. If you inhale a smaller viral load, you’re more likely to have a mild case of the illness. So in the beginning, we talk about masking being most effective to prevent transmission, now we know it also helps the wearer as well. And I think there are many reasons and we will hear some today for concern about masking, but I think the scientific evidence is nearly incontrovertible,” said Dr. Barbe.

“I’m going to side with the CDC, I’m going to side with WHO, and the other doctors. I know for a fact that masks work, if I were to hold a lighter, an open flame to my mouth right now, I was going to do it as a science experiment, live on camera, but forget that. If I’m holding the flame right here, and I’m talking, just talking without a mask, I blow that flame out. I hold that same flame up to my mouth, coughing, full, hack, and it blows the flame out. We know, for a fact that this virus transmits through the air in water droplets. It can stop the spread, but in order for this to work, we have to get on the same page. We can’t have 50% of the population not masking up, and the other 50% saying please do. Because it’s like going to a party. And saying, okay, you don’t drink alcohol, and then I spike the punch, congratulations, everyone’s drinking that spiked punch. And it’s just, just mask up. It’s not that hard,” said Fisher.

“The Freedom fighter group is a group of people who united on Facebook because we oppose masking mandates. The problem with the one-size-fits-all approach, and that is what a masking mandate is, is that you are treating everyone as though they are the same. And every person is different. Someone who has never met me, or you or anyone else, these people are not in a position to determine what is best for my healthcare. So for example, I have asthma. And most of the time it’s not problematic for me to wear a mask. If I am in a situation where it’s very hot outside or where I need to go up a couple of flights of stairs, it’s nice to take the mask off. That’s something that is only I can determine that. The problem with the masking mandate, it has created an atmosphere of fear and hostility in our city. You can’t pull your mask down if you’re short of breath. Someone will say something to you. I’ve been working by myself with a mask in my hand, no one anywhere close to me, and cars driving by will yell things out the window. Vulgar things, that you need to put your mask on. So I feel like we go a little bit overboard, and we do that at the cost of the individual’s health,” said Counts.

“As the doctor was saying, I’m an attorney, I deal with facts, I also deal with things that I can see that were tangible. We have been dealing with this mask mandate since July. Other cities, much larger than Springfield, have been dealing with it even longer than that. So where is the evidence? You cannot walk into a Walmart store without a mask, or a Hyvee, or any other place to do business. Can you walk into a restaurant, be seated, without a mask? You’re safe once you eat, you’re no longer contagious but then you go up to the bathroom and you’re contagious again and you got to put on a mask. The point of it is, that numbers every day, we have been hearing from you guys, from the radio, record-breaking day. Another record-breaking day of COVID cases. So explain to me doctor, we had a mask mandate, you can’t buy toilet paper anymore, you can’t go buy food without putting on a mask, you can’t go out to eat with your family without putting on a mask, You can’t go Christmas shopping for black Friday without putting on your mask. How is it then that our numbers just keep skyrocketing but then we look at other states like South Dakota did not have the mask mandate, where their numbers are almost right in line with other states that force this on its citizens?” asked Wyatt.

“There are multiple factors that go into the transmission rate and the infection rate at any given state or community as far as that goes. There are pretty good projections that suggest this is the trend where we are now, with the amount of masking in any given community whether it’s 30$ or 70%. And what would that be if everyone masked, or if the mask was greater by 15%? And what would it be if the masking was relaxed or other measures were relaxed like social distancing or size of gatherings, and all of the projections show differing curves in each of those situations? So it’s a multi-factorial transmission rate, and if masking is a piece of it, it is an important piece if you look at any advice, medical advice, there are four things you do. You mask, you social distance, you wash your hands, and you quarantine or isolate when that’s relevant,” said Dr. Barbe.

“Not to tell you off, but you keep talking about projections and whatnot, isn’t it true just earlier this year, we had projections that 2 million people were going to die? 2 million people were going to die. Our projections, our models, that if we do nothing, these are the things that are going to happen. These models, can we really trust?” asked Wyatt.

“Yes, we can. This is an example I give. And part of the problem with trusting the evidence which has changed. We know more now than we did in January when it first hit, we knew more in March, we know more now. An example would be diabetes. We don’t treat diabetes the same now as we treated it ten years ago. Eight years ago a new development came in. Six years ago, another one came in. Four years ago, another one came in. And when my patients come to me, they expect me to treat them in 2020 medicine and our understanding now, not in 2010 medicine. The difference between this and diabetes and COVID, is it has evolved so fast, that it makes it sometimes easy for people to question, well why is it different this month than last month? It’s because we know more this month than we did last month,” said Dr. Barbe.

“So the problem with that then, is what I’m hearing is, this will go on indefinitely if that side is in control. Why? We got a flu vaccine, right? We have a flu vaccine for many many years, people take it, still, die of it. So we’re going to have a COVID, coronavirus vaccine that’s coming out, maybe the end of this month, by Pfizer, well this virus keeps mutating, or keeps changing is what I heard the good doctor said. So, much like the ineffectiveness of the flu shot, we have a COVID shot that is going to be ineffective for a good portion of the people, so guess what, we’re going to have to keep masking, and probably, to be safe, because we don’t want anyone to die, forever. Because there is no cure,” said Wyatt.

“I don’t want my comment to be mischaracterized to what has changed. I’m not suggesting the virus has changed, I’m suggesting what we know scientifically, having had the opportunity to watch it over the last ten months worldwide, we know more about its behavior, we know more about its treatment. If there’s a good thing, if there’s any kind of silver lining to this, if you look at Missouri statistics, we are continuing to increase in the number of cases per day. We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of deaths per day. We know better how to treat it, we know better how to protect people, and it has resulted in a significant decline in deaths,” said Dr. Barbe.

“But you say, you admit that the information that we have changes all the time when you spoke the first time, you brought up the CDC and the WHO. But their recommendations have flip-flopped numerous times. The CDC and the WHO have both alternated between recommending masking, and saying that it’s not necessary or not necessary in certain circumstances, so at what point do we realize, where do you draw the line?” asked Counts.

“I will grant that your comments earlier about it isn’t necessarily one size fits all are true. There can be exceptions, there should be exceptions. But the science behind it, is pretty clear and the more individuals we have masking more of the time, the better off we will be. How we accomplish that as a society is a different argument altogether. I do believe that we will see a diminution in this the next Spring or Summer sometime, again due to a variety of factors. Our continued better understanding, our continued adherence, the vaccines may prove to be of some benefit, the two vaccines that are leading in the United States, the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, based on their research, are 90% or more effective, so that will make some impact, so we have different levers that we as a society can pull. How hard we pull them or how far we take them is the social discussion that we must continue to have,” said Dr. Barbe.

“I think that’s why we’re here. The question is, what is the role of the government, right? The constitution matters a lot to me, an oath to uphold that one. And what is the role, what is the authority that the government has? You know, they keep calling this as an emergency, the mayor re-up that again, saying this is an emergency situation. We have 99.9% people survive or 98% people survive, we’re not talking about the death plague or we’re not talking about malaria, we’re not talking about anything else. We’re talking about a virus that has, you have a better chance of surviving that than the vaccine coming out and being effective. And so our problem is, is the government comes up with these laws or these ordinances, or these mandates, and they state that you must now wear a mask, but then they come up with exceptions unless you’re at a swimming pool, you’re safe. If you are eating your food or drinking your beverage, you’re safe. Somehow, you’re safe. And now, they want to mandate you wearing masks in your homes. It’s coming. They already stated that that is what the next step. If you have people in power who enjoy power, they want what, more power, more control. And so doctor, do you suggest it will be a good idea this Thanksgiving that we all wear mask inside, that we should limit our families and pick which of the 10 we want in our home because trust me, there’s several of mine, use that as an excuse not to come. Sorry, doctor said I can only have ten people here. Is that, should we take it to that level? Is this virus so deadly that we need to mandate people wear a mask at home, if you’re making love with your wife, put on your mask? You don’t want to contaminate people? Should we go that far?” asked Wyatt.

“I’ll respond. Probably need to let some of the others speak a little as well. So it is true that in the state of Missouri about 5 people per every 10,000 in the state have died from COVID. About 4%, 4 out of every 10 have already had COVID in this state, which is 4 out of every 100 have had COVID. But if you look nationwide, 1,600 people are currently dying per day. It will be over 2,000 before we peak. That’s like five fully-loaded jetliners falling out of the sky, every day. If that were happening, don’t you think we would take some pretty significant approaches? Do I personally think we should mask at home, when no one has been exposed and you’re with your own family or during intimate relationships? I don’t personally believe that’s the case. There are some that may be asking for that, I’m not sure that’s where the science is. I stick by the science. And the science says, what I just suggested already,” said Dr. Barbe.

“The other problem that we have, let you talk but the other problem that we have is these same leaders that make these laws and make these ordinances violate them time and time again. When we saw mayor Lightfoot out there on November 7th right? Not social distancing, right? Not wearing a mask. You see Governor Cuomo, walking his dog out in public. People wearing masks around him, governor Cuomo not wearing his mask. Or Nancy Pelosi going to a hairstylist, the place is supposed to be closed, for our safety, getting her hair done,” said Wyatt.

“I saw it locally. We had a city council meeting that’s broadcast on Facebook, and we’re all supposed to be social distancing and wearing masks, they’re sitting elbow to elbow at a table with no masks on, and I type in on Facebook, we can see you, you’re not following the same rules that you’re expecting us to follow. It’s not just in other places, that’s the attitude that we have here in Springfield. And doctor, I can appreciate that you want to help people be healthy and in some cases survive and that’s admirable, but ultimately my health is my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to listen to what you have to say, and respond to it appropriately. We have all kinds of examples in our society, smoking is very hazardous to someone’s health, but people do it. It’s not against the law. No one is going to limit severely. We have some control over what we do with our bodies. We should have what we should have now. And we definitely don’t need people who are in positions in government to try to stand in as our healthcare keepers,” said Counts.

“You’re right. I got to watch the governor of Missouri go to the fourth of July parade. Out in Marshfield. Watching him get within five feet of people. Shaking everybody’s hand. Not masked up, not doing this. Part of the problem we’re having, we can’t get leadership to agree. When leadership can’t come together on something, say what, this is something we all need to do, that causes confusion down below, there’s no leadership above, you’re not going to have that below. You say you’ve got a right. Yes, you do. I’ve got a right to drink. What I don’t have a right to do is drink and drive because I put much of the community at risk,” said Fisher.

“With our governor, his position was never that everyone, it’s not like city council in Springfield where they were telling us that we all have to wear a mask, he’s had a different position. People who were not comfortable with being around him when he’s unmasked, don’t have to be. I would approach the governor and shake his hand if he wasn’t wearing a mask. If you’re not comfortable doing that, then, by all means, do what you’re comfortable with,” said Counts.

“It comes down to respect. I sit here and I listen to these arguments, all the time. We have these facts and figures, we have these facts and figures. This virus doesn’t care about facts and figures. It doesn’t care. It has one purpose and one purpose alone. To breed and multiply. And you’re either helping it, by helping it spread, or you’re doing something to slow it down and mitigate it. So the choice that you have to make, you say it doesn’t matter well there are 245,000 people that disagree with your opinion they’re dead. They are dead. If a car manufacturer, you say, the government can’t tell us what to do. But if a car manufacturer has a car that’s unsafe, it gets recalled, they fix the problem because too many people have died. Look at pinto, with the exploding gas tanks. Sometimes the government has to make decisions in the best interest of the people. They make decisions to go to war because it’s to keep us safe. They make decisions to say yes we’ve got to stop ISIS. We make decisions to put other people in harm’s way. Our healthcare providers are out there every day fighting this thing on the front lines. And you have the audacity to make some kind of like, some kind of theatrical performance in a courtroom. It’s not. This is life and death,” said Fisher.

“See there we go. See, it’s feels,” said Wyatt.

“This is not feels,” said Fisher.

“99.8% of young people, right? Yet the city of Republic announced today they’re going to shut down schools again. How much havoc is that going to play to parents who rely on having their kids in school? But oh my God, have I heard any numbers yet of how many school-aged kids are dying?” said Wyatt.

“Very low rate of transmission amongst children,” said Counts.

“But we’re going to shut it down,” said Wyatt.

“Very,” said Counts.

“Why? Because if we don’t, we don’t care, folks. We are scared, and that’s what they do feels. That you are uncaring Americans if you believe that you don’t want to wear a mask. We quarantine sick people, not healthy people. But the left, they want to quarantine all of us. All of us. And it’s going to be forever because there is no cure. There’s never going to be a cure. There’s no cure for the flu. How come we weren’t upset then? How come we weren’t upset all those years, all those because every life matters, right? How many people did you see die of pneumonia? Tragic. Right? They’re drowning, right? How come we don’t treat that? We should all be masked up. We should all be in our homes. We should all be virtual. We shouldn’t go to church, we shouldn’t socialize with people, because out of fear. But we don’t, do we?” said Wyatt.

“It’s very concerning, the psychological aspect when you talk about not going to church. I’m very active in my church. And that’s a big part of my social interaction. So where are you when you have people languishing in nursing homes because they’re isolated? Where are you when you have rates of addiction increasing exponentially, people who are developing all kinds of psychiatric and emotional issues because they’re completely disconnected from others? We have to really balance the cost. And we can have interaction that’s safe. I have yet to be diagnosed with COVID-19, and I’ve still continued to go to work, do my shopping, do the things I need to do, and I take precautions that are reasonable when it’s in the best interest of my personal health. If we don’t have a masking mandate, anyone is still free to take any precaution that makes them feel comfortable. No one’s going to fault them for doing that. It just gives us all the freedom to tailor the precautions that we’re going to take to our individual needs,” said Counts.

“If I choose to smoke and you inhale that, am I giving you a choice?” asked Fisher.

“Well, if you’re choosing to smoke and I don’t, I’m not comfortable with that, I can move, I can ask you to go outside, I mean there’s a whole lot of grey area here. And then the other thing is if I inhale smoke or even if I’m exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19, inhaling the smoke doesn’t mean I’m going to die of lung cancer. Being in the presence of someone who’s positive for the virus doesn’t mean that I’m going to contract it, and even if I do contract it, there’s a less than 1% chance that I’m going to die from it. So we can’t really box ourselves into these if, then, either-or situations,” said Counts.

“Well, you make a good point. I’ve got about 20 years in recovery experience. Working with alcoholics and addicts. And I’m listening to the mental gymnastics you two are doing. I hope that you’re willing to stake people’s lives on what you’re saying. I hope you’re that willing. That you believe so much of what you’re saying is true, and right?” said Fisher.

“Well, science tells us that. 99.8% of people survive,” said Wyatt.

“It’s not my responsibility to control people’s behavior, it’s my responsibility to save myself regulate my own healthcare. You’re not responsible for doing that. So there’s no reason why you should feel that burden,” said Counts.

“You’re right, we should do away of speed limits, stoplights, and everything else,” said Fisher.

“Well, that’s not what I said at all. Not even close,” said Counts.

“Well, you said it’s not your responsibility,” said Fisher.

“No, that’s not what I said,” said Counts.

“No, you’re saying, that’s what you said,” said Fisher.

“These are the same people that are going to tell you when the vaccine comes out? The government should mandate it. They should come into your homes, and mandate it. You should not go to work unless you get vaccinated, ” said Wyatt.

“Have you guys heard, I’m not sure where it’s at, you’ll have to forgive me, I read a lot of stuff. One of these major cities, right now, the nursing staff is preparing a strike. Because, and I see where they’re coming from in a lot of ways. If we can’t get, if we can’t agree on how to fight this thing together or at least try to fight it together, then I can understand why they want to walk out. I’m retired healthcare,” said Fisher.

“I kind of don’t understand why they want to walk out,” said Counts.

“I’m glad I am not in the healthcare field right now. Because I would be required, to be there. To show up, take care of people who didn’t want to follow the advice of the CDC, who don’t want to follow the advice of WHO, that don’t want to listen to all these doctors and all these experts and everybody else,” said Fisher

“I don’t think that all healthcare workers share your outlook there. I was a paramedic for several years, I didn’t view it as a burden at all, people may drink and wreck a car, and my job is to be there and take care of those people, that’s what I signed on for. That’s why you’re there. you know when you’re in school learning how to do your job, you know every day that there’s some risk involved. But you know, to the mind of most healthcare workers, the benefits of helping people outweigh the risks of the job. Every job carries risks,” said Counts.

“The mental gymnastics you’re telling about, follow the CDC, follow the WHO, which recommendation? They keep changing, you know WHO’s newest recommendation is shutdowns are ineffective. Government shutdowns are ineffective but what are our leaders doing? Fixing a shutdown, Kansas City, shutting down, Chicago, shutting down. So are they following the recommendations of these scientists, these authorities? Are these the same people you want us to follow? It changes. If absolutely changes. You’re just scared, and I appreciate it, you’re scared. There’s a lot of people like you that are scared, of something that is not, most likely going to kill you,” said Wyatt.

“It’s not fair to mischaracterize our position as being like we’re pro-death or we’re being insensitive. It’s actually quite the opposite. It is compassion that drives me to believe that people should be able to regulate their own healthcare. It is compassion that drives me to say, we shouldn’t be pushing people to the brink with mental health issues or substance abuse issues, or elderly people that are isolated in nursing homes, it is concern for their well-being that makes me take the position that I have,” said Counts.

“I understand that. I understand that it’s tough. These are difficult times,” said Fisher.

“The big thing for us is decisions make mandates, make laws, based on facts, reason, not feels. And The left, that’s their argument is feels. And they want to pull on your heartstrings on how many people have died, and how many people, people die every day of car wrecks but we don’t stop driving, do we? Those deaths are tragic, aren’t they? When people die, in a car accident that had nothing to do with them, no fault of their own. Tragic. Absolutely tragic and imagine the family, that’s been involved in losing a member of their family to a car accident that had nothing to do with them, but we don’t stop that, do we? And statistically, a lot of people die every year of car accidents. A lot of people die from drowning, we don’t stop swimming, we don’t stop floating, we don’t stop going to the lake. This fear that has gripping this nation is trying to stop you from doing everything that makes you who we are. Going to church. Makes us who we are. Going to school makes us who we are. Congregating with each other. I don’t know what these people are going to feel like when they say alright you can take your mask off. Are you? Are you ever going to take it off? I mean, at what point, what point will you feel safe? There’s never going to be a cure. There will never be a cure like there’s not a cure for influenza, there’s not a cure for the common cold, that kills people too. Pneumonia, so our point is the government should not pass laws or the mayor should not take actions on his own based out of fear. Let Americans make their own decisions, period,” said Wyatt.

“I am concerned because it seems like every time that we give our liberties, give our rights away a little bit, we never get them back. It’s a slippery slope. So if we’re willing to give up our religious freedoms over a pandemic, so then what’s going to happen in the next pandemic? Were we ever going to get those things back? And that is really my concern here, and also the fact that we are abandoning personal responsibility. Every individual should be able to determine what is best for their health,” said Counts.

“And I agree with you on that point. I really do. Like I said, guys, it’s a virus, it doesn’t care about facts or figures, and you don’t know how this virus is going to affect you as an individual. Until it does. And then you know. This country’s seen hard times before. Saw it in World War II, We’re going through a hard time now. We’ve been through depressions, wars, everything else. One thing’s certain about life. People are going to die. That is true. But if I had that attitude as a healthcare provider, why bother going into healthcare? People are going to die anyway. You know, we shouldn’t try to help them, shouldn’t try to save them. Just, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to die anyway. We cannot afford to be cavalier about this virus. Because the thing about nature, the second you don’t respect it, it’ll get you. And humans are no match for mother nature. They’re just not. And that’s all I got,” said Fisher.

“I think we’re responding differently to this because of the magnitude of this. And we talk about how many people die of the flu, 30,000 is kind of a bad year. We’re at eight times that already. Pneumonia, 50,000, is kind of a bad year. We’re at five times that already. Gun violence is 50,000-60,000 a year, we’re at 4 to 5 times that already. So it’s a different magnitude and I think it does require a different response. Maybe I come at this a little differently, as a healthcare provider, as a physician, who has pretty much committed my career to putting the needs of others ahead of my own, to thinking more about the need of the patient than my own. And if you think about how that interfaces with laws, we make laws when people don’t exercise good judgment in the first place. Can’t drive 100 miles an hour, that’s dangerous, with more accidents at 100 than there is at pick any number lower than that. So we make laws for that. If we exercised personal responsibility and cared as much about others as we care about ourselves, and I wanted to protect you as much as I wanted to protect myself, we would have more people wearing masks and the impetus for any type of ordinance or regulation I think would be much less,” said Dr. Barbe.

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