STERNBERG: Your Arm, My Nose

Life In The Time Of COVID-19

Your Arm, My Nose

Richard Sternberg

In 1882, John B. Finch, then chairman of the Prohibition National Committee, wrote “… your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

This seems like a very appropriate commentary on the current argument between those who are concerned about easing COVID-19 restrictions now and those who want to open the economy immediately.

Sadly this, like almost all things in this country, has become highly politicized with each side having its own facts. Interestingly, there appears to be a reasonable compromise to allow rapid and safe recovery of the economy while decreasing risk of propagation of the disease: Everyone wears a mask while in public, all the time, everywhere.

I am indebted to Martin and Meg Tillapaugh for directing me to the article “Masks for All? The Science Says Yes” by Trisha Greenhalgh and Jeremy Howard.

In it the authors, in very easy to understand language, discuss the epidemiology of disease spread, the physics of droplets and aerosols, the material science of masks, the mathematics of disease transmission, the politics of mask wearing, mask-wearing experiments, the behavioral science of mask wearing, the economics of mask wearing, and the anthropology of mask wearing.

The bottom line is that most of the scientific evidence supports mask wearing and, to quote Governor Cuomo, “It’s disrespectful to me (for you) not to wear a mask.”

In my opinion it would be much easier for me, someone who has six co-morbid conditions for complications with COVID-19, to accept opening things up more if everybody did everything
reasonable to protect each other.

The arguments against mask wearing that I’ve heard include its uncomfortable, it looks funny, I’m not at risk, kids and young people don’t get it, it’s a free country, I don’t have to do what anybody tells me, and it’s a Democratic conspiracy. None of these are valid in this situation.

Well, we are all at risk. We are all at risk of spreading it to friends, loved ones, other human beings, and of becoming infected, contracting the disease, getting sick, and dying.

Children are not immune. They can become very ill and die or transmit it to someone else who becomes sick and dies. One form of the disease in children, Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, is particularly nasty.

If the number of children dying of this wasn’t overshadowed by the unfathomable numbers dying overall there would be public uproar of why we weren’t doing more to help these poor children.

Trying to out yell or politicize this disease is not going to lead to solutions. Marching on state capitals while refusing to social distance and not wearing masks, thereby putting everyone including the children present at risk, and carrying semi-automatic rifles which in that context can be for no reason but intimidation, which no government could capitulate to, doesn’t win any additional support.

On the other hand, if everyone who wanted to see everything open up quicker than it has so far, and that should be about everyone, were to wear masks whenever in public, transmission rates would drop, new cases would drop, and deaths would drop, all strongly supporting allowing a return to normalcy.

To quote a famous American, “Why can’t we all get along?” If we all work together and compromise in what we are saying to each other and in what we are doing, we will find that all win. This would not be a you or me, win or lose, but win/win all the way around.

Richard Sternberg, a retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon, has agreed to provide his professional perspective while the coronavirus threat continues. Dr. Sternberg, who is also a village trustee, resides in Cooperstown.


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