Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on the new Centers for Disease Control guidance on masks:
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control changed its guidelines on homemade coronavirus masks, recommending that Americans wear the cloth coverings over their nose and mouth whenever they are in public. One thing hasn’t changed, however: Officials still say the masks aren’t for protecting the wearer from getting COVID-19. They’re for preventing wearers who have the virus — including those who are asymptomatic — from spreading it.
We wondered: Why not both? If the masks help stop the wearer’s respiratory droplets from getting into the air or on a surface, shouldn’t they also help prevent someone else’s droplets from getting into the wearer’s nose and mouth?
We asked Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, North Carolina’s health director and the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services. “That’s an intuitive question,” she said, but before she answered it, she wanted to make something clear about wearing a mask. “It’s not a substitute for everything else,” she said.
Tilson is a little uneasy with the CDC’s new recommendation, not because it’s bad public health but because she’s worried it might make people too comfortable about being among others. “It’s one piece,” she says. The other pieces — staying at home whenever possible and staying 6 feet away from people when in public — remain the best strategies.
Got it? Now back to our question. Why do federal officials say homemade masks are about preventing the wearer from spreading the virus? It’s about “source containment,” Tilson says. Because a mask is close to your nose and mouth, she says, it’s more effective at preventing respiratory drops from getting airborne.
But, she says, that does work both ways. “If you’re out in public and you’re within three to six feet of a person, then your mask can give you a layer of protection,” she says.
So there you go. Masks can be good for the wearer, too. But again, Tilson says, people should not grow overconfident about being out in public just because of the bandana you have over your face. And if you are wearing a mask, make sure you use them correctly. That means:
1) Cover both your mouth and nose, and don’t move it to speak. “If you’re going to wear it, commit,” Tilson says;
2) Don’t touch it. It might have respiratory droplets on it, and getting that on your hands defeats the purpose of wearing the thing;
3) Touch the strings but not the mask when you remove it, dispose of it, or throw it in the wash.
The most important tip of all is — you guessed it — stay at home. North Carolinians have largely been social distancing, and because of that researchers have cut the projected COVID-19 death toll for the state. “We’re doing better,” Tilson says, “but we’re not out of the woods.” Homemade masks are an additional tool. Save the real ones for medical professionals. And wear yours smartly.
The Fayetteville Observer on five things that could help prevent the spread of the coronavirus:
The novel coronavirus passed a concerning milestone this weekend — more than 1 million people across the globe are now infected, with all signs showing its trajectory is steeply on the rise. The United States accounts for nearly a quarter of new infections. Thousands of Americans have died, already more than double those lost in the 9/11 attacks. We have been warned by health and government officials to prepare for many more deaths.
Now, more than ever, we must remember the mantra that some are using during the era of COVID-19 — “Do the Five.” It is a handy way to remember best practices according to public health officials to try to mitigate an extremely infectious disease:
1. Stay home as much as possible.
2. Keep a safe distance (at least six feet)
3. Wash your hands often.
4. Cover your cough (crook of elbow is best)
5. Sick? Call ahead to your doctor or health department.
Americans are getting a sharp reminder about item 1, staying home. An estimated 300 million people are living in states that have enacted stay-at-home orders, according to USA Today, a figure that represents 90 percent of the country. The orders, including here in North Carolina, allow travel only in limited circumstances and allows only essential businesses and services to continue.
But all stay-at-home orders are not the same, and there has been wide variation between what’s allowed in different states.
So that means individual responsibility is still a big part of keeping ourselves, our families and other people safe. It has caused us all to decide what goods and services that we ourselves deem “essential” — important enough to leave our houses and venture out. Everyone has a different answer to that question.
Meanwhile some people have taken up the cause of trying to help people Do the Five, who for reasons of circumstance, face barriers to doing so. Fayetteville’s Stacey Buckner, who has conducted a homeless outreach for three years, is providing a mobile hand-washing station, according to a web story by WNCN. Buckner told the TV station: “This is not your opinion about the homeless, this is a public health issue.”
She is right. It is important to note that when people try to help the homeless protect themselves from the virus or demand reforms that address the crowded prison and jail population, which can be breeding grounds for infection, it is not just about doing a good deed. These actions are in line with sound public health practice that assumes an outbreak anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.
As many people as possible must “Do the Five” for the practices to be most effective. Government has a role to play but it starts with each individual.
The Winston-Salem Journal on recent Trump administration environmental actions:
It’s a testament to the optimism of the American people and our enduring sense of hope that we’re already anticipating the days when we can boldly and safely step out from isolation and socialize again. We discuss the restaurant meals we’ll consume, the musical performances we’ll hear, the hikes and camping trips in state and national parks on which we’ll embark.
And, realistically, we wonder how American life will change during this time.
But there’s one aspect of our public life that is currently being challenged. While we’re hunkered down, distracted by the current crisis, the Trump administration is continuing a concerted assault on environmental protections.
At the end of March, the Trump administration rolled back impending vehicle mileage standards, a move that will lead to an increase in the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change — and will also lead to more respiratory illness, like asthma, especially among young people.
Drawing on the government’s own projections, the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group projects 18,500 additional deaths from respiratory problems and other illnesses by mid-century, along with more illnesses and lost work days, should the Trump standards be implimented.
The Trump administration touted the rollback as a plus: “Great news! American families will now be able to buy safer, more affordable, and environmentally friendly cars with our new SAFE VEHICLES RULE,” President Trump declared in a tweet.
But there’s only a grain of truth to his claim. Trump’s mileage standards will require automakers to achieve 1.5% annual increases in fuel efficiency, but they do so by replacing Obama-era standards that called for 5% annual increases. By any rationale, that’s a reduction.
The truth is that either change in emission standards would be little noticed by drivers or auto purchasers — but the 5% would save lives and reduce greenhouse gases significantly.
Fortunately, some are still watching. California officials said on Wednesday they were preparing to take the administration to court over the standards.
“We’re going to do what we need to do,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on a conference call with reporters.
“This timing is more than tone deaf,” he added. “It could be very harmful at a time when all of our state governments and local governments, and I would have to include the federal government, are trying to address COVID-19.”
Previous attempts by the Trump administration to loosen pollution standards have often been stopped by court challenges or public protests. But “never let a crisis go to waste.” On March 18, the Environmental Protection Agency — a name that under administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, is Orwellian — released a proposal that would limit public and scientific input to changes in agency rules. No public hearing on the proposal has been scheduled — nor is it likely to be scheduled at this time.
The EPA, with the Interior Department, will likely try to push other wish-list items through while opponents are distracted, like the sale of public lands to oil companies and increased attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Most of us will be rightly concerned with the immediate threat of coronavirus to our health and security. It’s the proper and necessary focus.
But as soon as they can, people who are concerned with clean air will have to redouble their efforts, through activism — and voting — to try to claw back the environmental protections that are right now under opportunistic attack.