Why People Should Mask Indoors, Regardless of What a Judge Says

An image of masks

Most Americans who follow the news have at this point heard the ruling from a judge striking down federal mask mandates for airplanes, trains, and other forms of public transportation.

Some celebrate the ruling. Others look at it with dismay (me being one of them). I say that every single American should mask up on public transit, and other indoor areas, without giving a care about what some judge said.

Here’s the thing—judges are supposed to be legal experts, not public health experts. So to make an individual public health decision, such as whether one should wear a mask on a bus, based on a ruling from an apparent legal expert who’s not a public health expert, is simply ill-advised. It makes about as much sense as using a judge’s court decision to help you decide whether to take a vaccine, use a certain medicine, or use a certain treatment for an illness you are experiencing, because judges, in most cases, are probably not experts in the medical field.

And speaking of public health, the public health is such that it is simply not wise to drop the masks on public transit yet. It’s not wise because the virus, while not as deadly as it used to be, is claiming hundreds of lives a day,[1] and therefore remains far more lethal than a seasonal flu.[2] It’s not wise due to how it leaves the immunocompromised, who are at greater risk of serious illness or death than other populations, vulnerable to the virus. It’s also not wise because it leaves the little children who are currently unable to get vaccinated—those under the age of 5—vulnerable as well. And it’s not wise because we don’t know how many people end up with long COVID from the current strain of the virus.

Believe me, I don’t find masks comfortable at all, and I long for the day that I can make decisions on what to do with my daily life without having to keep the pandemic on my mind. But we are not there yet—not while we have a pandemic far deadlier than the deadliest flu seasons, and not while the lethal nature of it leaves some of the most vulnerable among us particularly vulnerable.

And yet, in spite of the imperative to protect these vulnerable populations, some people or individuals have a tendency to care more about their own freedom to be unmasked than the wellbeing of the vulnerable people around them. To those who feel that way, all I can say is that I hope and pray that you learn to care about someone other than yourself and your own desires; namely, that you learn to care about the most vulnerable among us in any situation, including and especially the one presented to us by the current pandemic.

And so, for the sake of caring for others, it is (still) time to mask up indoors.


[1] https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

[2] The flu claims 12,000 to 52,000 lives each year. As of the time I am writing this piece, 346 Americans a day are dying of COVID on average, which means over 126,000 deaths if we were to multiply the average number of deaths by the number of days we have in a calendar year: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

American Health Care and Responding to the Long-Term Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the Omicron variant having settled down, it seems like the “health care system” (putting that phrase in quotes because, in the words of a former journalist by the name of Walter Cronkite, I believe it is “neither healthy, caring, nor a system”[1]) can perhaps take a bit of a breather, at least until the next variant. If there is another catastrophic variant, that is, and I hope there won’t be one.

Yet, even if there isn’t another variant, health care systems around the world, including the one in the United States, will in a way be responding to the long-term impacts the pandemic has had on people for years, if not decades, to come. And I am concerned about the American health care system not giving people with said impacts the sort of health care that is required.

But first of all, who are the people with these long-term impacts?

Some of us will possibly be COVID long-haulers who will need physical health care. We are learning more about the long-haulers as we go along, but it may turn out that some will end up with long-term or even permanent impacts that will affect their daily lives due to neurological conditions,[2] among other things. Regardless, the long-haulers are a population that will be dealing with long-term impacts from COVID, quite possibly, long after the pandemic ends.

However, many more of us will be people who need mental health care of various kinds due to the emotional trauma that the circumstances of COVID have caused. A wide range of populations will need this mental health care in some way, shape, or form, ranging from family members who lost loved ones due to the pandemic, to hospital workers who have emotional trauma from working in hard-hit hospitals, to people whose personal economic fortunes turned completely upside down due to the pandemic and never recovered. Dealing with the effects of trauma can be lifelong, and as such, dealing with the effects of COVID-related trauma may also be lifelong.

I have no idea how many people will need COVID-related physical health care and how many will need COVID-related mental health care after the pandemic, but I’m guessing that it will be a sizeable number of people in the United States—perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even in the millions. What I do know is that there will likely be a lot of people who will need one or both things, and that if preparations are not made for that long-term reality now, people are going to be hurt quite badly (physically, emotionally, and otherwise) by how poorly prepared our health care system is, by how American health care has a nasty tendency to leave people either uncovered or undercovered for so many basic needs.

Nor do I know what preparing for such a reality may look like, as I am not a health care expert. Frankly, I’m not even sure if a lot of health care experts know what preparing for such a reality may look like, either. I’m not even sure if it’s possible for a health care “system” as broken as the one in the United States—a “system” where millions are uninsured, where millions more are denied coverage for so many basic needs, and where the politicians that could change this would rather keep the status quo then actually fix these problems—could ever be truly prepared for the potential enormity of caring for scars, both physical and emotional, that come from this pandemic. Possibly not. But if it is possible, those preparations need to happen, and happen now.


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/74350-america-s-health-care-system-is-neither-healthy-caring-nor-a

[2] https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/boston-doctors-explain-long-covid-and-neurological-symptoms/2509459/

On Book Bans

In the last several weeks, there’s been a lot of attention on the fact that some schools and school districts are banning books that they think are inappropriate for one reason or another. Proponents of banning certain books are arguing that by not allowing certain books in, their kids are somehow being “protected.” And then, on the other hand, opponents of the banned books are arguing that the banning of some of them in certain schools and school districts is shameful.

However, what gets lost in the whole discussion on book bans is the fact that the sense of protection that comes from book bans (among those in favor of the bans) is a false one.

But why would I say that?

Let’s think about the sorts of book bans that give some groups of parents a sense of protection: ones that focus on books with certain profanities, with certain takes on racial issues, or with characters who are openly LGBTQ+ (or with certain takes on LGBTQ+ issues), to name a few.[1] Some may think that by banning such books, access is being restricted on the topics the books address. In reality, information on all these things—the profanities, the takes on racial issues that result in certain books getting banned, and LGBTQ+ stuff—is just a Google search away. All one is doing by banning books is simply changing the medium through which many people gain access to the sort of information they might acquire through the banned book. This is one reason I say that book bans provide a false sense of protection for those in favor of the bans.

But there is another reason I argue this: one can get a book through means other than reading it at school. A book as popular as To Kill a Mockingbird is one that a curious kid could buy with some allowance money (depending on how much money it is) at the bookstore closest to school or home. Some of these books can be easily checked out at local libraries for no money at all. Many of them are available on places like Amazon, provided the parents are willing to use their credit card to purchase the book for their kid. All that banning a book does, in some cases, is allow book retailers to make money off of selling the banned book to interested and curious minds.

However, even if one didn’t seek out information on transgender people through a Google search or check To Kill a Mockingbird out of the local library, there is one inescapable fact: the issues covered in some, even many, of these banned books are issues that many of us are likely to face at some point in our lives. You can ban a book with a gay couple in it, but when a friend of yours comes out to you as gay,[2] there is no escaping LGBTQ+ issues. You can ban a book perceived as having a message that is too anti-police, but at some point, someone is likely to run into someone else who believes wholeheartedly in the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the aforementioned inescapable fact, I’m of the mind that while one’s exposure to the information in many of these banned books may sometimes be delayed, it cannot be escaped forever. It’s simply not possible in this world, short of living in an extraordinarily tight bubble (and even then, there is information that can seep in through that bubble).

The previous paragraph brings me to the real injustice with regard to book bans that needs to be talked about, which is the fact that it leaves some people unaware about certain major topics and issues in our society until confronted with those topics or issues. To me, that is a real injustice because, quite frankly, it does not seem healthy to leave people unaware until that critical point, because that is a point when decisions can be (and often are) made from a place of insecurity, ignorance, and stress—a place that can lead to bad decision-making with regard to how they treat their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members.


[1] I’m not making this stuff up. Those are three of the things that come up the most frequently on the American Library Association’s list of most banned and challenged books over the past few years: https://www.businessinsider.com/guides/learning/banned-books-2021#george-by-alex-gino-1

[2] Yes, I have a good friend who came out to me as gay relatively early in his coming out process. True story.

Highlighting the Lack of Care for the Immunocompromised During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s quite something that the pandemic started to get going in New York nearly two years ago, and yet I am still talking about it. Wow.

Anyway…

Just a couple of days before I published my previous regularly-scheduled Monday blog post, a bit of a firestorm erupted in the disability community when CDC Director Rochelle Walensky made a rather callous-sounding comment about people with comorbidities when replying to a question about whether we need to think about how we live with this virus: “The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with, and yes, really encouraging news. In the context of Omicron, this means not only to get your primary series, but to get your booster series, um, and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.”[1]

The anger stemmed from the fact that Dr. Walensky regarded the high percentage of deaths coming from people with all these comorbidities being “encouraging news.” The most charitable view of this quote, in the context of the question asked, is that people with multiple comorbidities—some of the most vulnerable among us health-wise—are an afterthought when it comes to thinking about health policy in relation to the pandemic. I saw many who took an even less charitable view than what I did here. Regardless, in the aftermath of what she said, the anger resulted in a hashtag that went viral on social media: #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy.

However, Dr. Walensky’s comments do not exist in a bubble. It’s only a microcosm of a larger issue: the lack of care for the immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider the fact that the main health policy for everyone, including those with compromised immune systems, is to get vaccinated, even though there is evidence that the vaccines are less effective for the immunocompromised than for others. Even in a study published a couple of months ago—before the more recent Omicron variant, which is better at evading vaccines than previous variants—it was showing that the vaccines were less effective for the immunocompromised than for the rest of the population.[2] Mind you, even for the immunocompromised, getting vaccinated is better than not getting vaccinated, but the study shows that vaccines have not provided the same level of protection to that population as to the rest of us. And yet the main health guidance, including for the immunocompromised, is to simply get vaccinated.

Then there’s the fact that there is a big push from some of our leaders to go back to work or school, even for the immunocompromised, amid this current Omicron surge in many parts of the country. Considering that vaccines are less effective for the immunocompromised than for the rest of us, and considering the push to get everyone to work and school (even said immunocompromised people) on top of all of that, it all sounds like a recipe for putting the lives of a whole group of people at risk, just for the sake of fulfilling the desire of certain other people or groups of people to get back to school or work. The lack of accommodations I have seen for those who are immunocompromised amid a pandemic that makes many of them so vulnerable, when it comes to schooling and work, goes to show the lack of care so many of us have for that population of people.

It would be all too easy, though, to simply point our fingers at government officials far away from where we are sitting and not look at ourselves and how our own actions can show a lack of care for the immunocompromised with this pandemic. Especially with this extremely contagious Omicron variant, every time we don’t mask up when we are in a crowd (a cloth mask by itself is not enough, by the way[3]), every time we only bring our masks up to our noses, and every time we make the decision to force our immunocompromised friends into a situation where they have to encounter large crowds are times we do not show adequate care for that population. The people I saw on a New York City subway train a few months ago who refused to wear masks even when begged to wear one by a fellow train rider who said that she was immunocompromised due to cancer came across as every bit as uncaring to such populations as Dr. Walensky did with her comment.

All these things I talk about show a complete lack of care for those who are immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what is the alternative?

The answer to this question, for me, is another question: What if our public health policy centered around doing all we can to protect the immunocompromised? It sounds like an action centered on protecting one particular group of people, but if one thinks about it, by doing all that we can to protect one of the populations most vulnerable to getting seriously ill or killed by COVID-19, we would, at least in some of our policies, be doing all we can to protect all populations from that same fate, by extension. Perhaps that is the approach to take, instead of the current approach to many things, which is to leave people with various health conditions off to the sides. An approach that, I must point out, is leading to hospital rates nationwide being the highest it has been in this entire pandemic.[4]


[1] You can large a large portion of the clip where Dr. Walensky said this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hVPz-A8auw

[2] https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/covid-19-vaccines-less-effective-in-immunocompromised-people

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2022/01/05/cloth-masks-not-effective-omicron-covid/9091574002/

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59960949

Vaccine Resistance and Government Agencies Working With the Most Vulnerable

A few weeks ago, there was a huge uproar over vaccine mandates for all New York City employees. There was the uproar from those who were resistant to the vaccines, and then there was the outcry from those worried about how government services would deteriorate without a portion of the workforce around due to the mandates.

But there’s a different outcry that should happen, yet I don’t see happening.

There should be outcry over the fact that, across the United States, the government workers doing the least to protect themselves and others from the virus (at least in terms of getting vaccinated) are in many cases the ones who work with some of the most vulnerable populations.

I observed in one of my COVID update blog posts a few weeks ago that the government agencies with the lowest vaccine rates in my city at the time were many of the ones serving the most vulnerable populations; namely, agencies serving those in legal trouble (police), those in jail, those with fires, those who are homeless, and those who are in public housing. At the time, I bemoaned the fact that the media wasn’t picking up on this.

However, one thing even I didn’t pick up fully until another friend alerted me to this was that my observation about unvaccinated government workers in New York City was a microcosm of what we’ve been seeing nationwide. Throughout the United States, it is government employees who are working with many of the most vulnerable in society who are often also the most resistant to getting vaccinated. In Chicago, it was reported a few weeks into their own mandate that their police and fire departments had the lowest vaccination rates.[1] In numerous states, it’s been reported that prison inmates are getting vaccinated at higher rates than the corrections officers who work with them (with some states having extremely low vaccine rates among their corrections officers)![2] Vaccine resistance among government workers who work with the most vulnerable in our society is not just a New York City issue, but seemingly a nationwide one.

This is a fact that I find troubling, and a fact that I think a lot of us should find troubling as well. We want the people who serve the most vulnerable to do all they can to keep themselves and others healthy, and the science shows that getting a COVID vaccine is the best way to do that, plain and simple. So when those serving the most vulnerable decide, in many cases, not to get vaccinated, and in the process make themselves and others (particularly others these people interact with who are in vulnerable situations) more vulnerable to this virus, it is something that is extremely problematic. And I hear very little media coverage of this.

Even though it’s something media hasn’t covered, I hope this gets more attention, because once it gets more attention, it will hopefully lead to a more aggressive, sustained push in some municipalities for government workers to get vaccinated. It’s important for this to happen, for the sakes of those most vulnerable, and by extension, the entire society at large.


[1] https://www.chicagobusiness.com/government/chicago-police-vaccine-rate-lowest-among-city-departments

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/09/30/prison-inmates-more-vaccinated-than-corrections-staff-in-at-least-13-states/?sh=44cdc04e4ebb