With the number of COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County rising exponentially in recent days, Dr. G. Robert Stephenson said it’s time to take vigilance against the virus to a new level.
Stephenson, Vice President and Chief Quality Officer at JPS Health Network, applauded the decision of county leaders announced Thursday. It legally requires people to wear protective face masks in public, a move that could reverse the disturbing upward trend of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks. On Thursday, Tarrant County confirmed 517 new infections, up from 460 the day before.
“I am extremely happy that people are now going to be required to wear masks in public,” Stephenson said. “It’s something that is truly due. I’m not surprised about the way cases have risen. People have been very eager to get back to their normal life and things started to open up, even though the numbers didn’t necessarily support that we were there yet. So, now we’ve gone from what was a linear growth curve to an exponential one. We need to do more to stop the spread.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, if everyone wore a mask it could cut the transmission of COVID-19 dramatically when used in conjunction with other prevention techniques including social distancing and staying home when it’s not absolutely necessary to go out.
“It’s got to go hand in hand with a variety of other things we have to do,” Stephenson said. “Just wearing a mask isn’t enough. You have to be sure to sure to wear it correctly – and that means over the nose and mouth, not under your nose. It’s unbelievably important to wear the mask properly. Hand hygiene is equally important. The good thing is that it’s much easier to find hand sanitizer now than it was in March. People need to clean their hands any time they touch a surface they don’t know for certain is clean. They need to avoid touching their face and eyes, and very important to keep up social distancing.”
While masks might not be popular or the most convenient option, they accomplish the one goal everyone can agree on, according to JPS Board Member Roger Fisher.
“Masks certainly are not fashion statements,” Fisher said. “But the science says it’s the single most important thing you can do to help your fellow man during this pandemic. Wear a mask, wash your hands -- not because you have to -- but because you want to do your part to make this go away as soon as possible.”
Masks work, according to the CDC, by limiting the spread of water vapor expelled when people cough, sneeze, talk or even breathe. A virus needs water vapor to survive outside the human body until it can find a new host. The mask doesn’t necessarily protect the person wearing it, but it keeps them from spreading the virus to others. So, it’s necessary for everyone to wear a mask in the presence of others to shut down the ability of the virus to spread.
Robert Earley, President and CEO of JPS, spoke before the Tarrant County Commissioners Court on June 23 just prior to the decision for masks to be required.
“We can’t will COVID-19 to go away,” Earley said. “We can’t just wish it would go away. And the increasing amount of numbers means that we’ve got to go back to our vigilance. We’ve got to back to social distancing, wearing a mask, being prepared and being concerned.”
Earley and Stephenson said for too long people have taken comfort in the idea that if they’re under 65 and they don’t have underlying health conditions. But the median age of patients who require hospitalization has gone from about 60 in April to the middle 40s now.
“I see it,” Earley said. “I live it every day at the hospital. I see who is coming in. Put a mask on and keep your social distancing. Don’t let your guard down.”
Stephenson said hopes COVID-19 would go away like influenza when the weather warmed up have been dashed. He said the virus has proven to be resilient, so people have to be smart and take care of themselves – and the people they care about – to prevent the spread.
The more universal mask wearing is, the better it works,” Stephenson said. “Right now we’re trending along with worst places in the world for disease spread. The good news is that, with masks and social distancing, it didn’t take very long to get things under control in New York. Korea flattened their curve even faster. But it looks like these measures are going to be the case until we have a vaccine.”