Marvin S. Wool: It's the masks, stupid

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With apologies to Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign motto, "It's the economy, stupid:"

For Mr. Trump, "It's the masks, stupid." The discussion is over. It became official with publication in the August issue of Health Affairs which reported that all 15 states studied which mandated mask wearing had declines in numbers of cases within two months.

The president, however maintains a love/(mostly) hate stance. His only consistent excuse is that a mask wouldn't look good should he, by chance, run into a diplomat or dictator (his word). But he rarely dons one except when visiting the Mayo Clinic or his brother's hospital bed.

Nevertheless, he's already done significant damage. A sentinel event was the ill-advised and ill-fated mask-less June 20 rally in Tulsa, Okla. There, dozens of young workers were stricken as was his personal friend, the 74-year-old former presidential candidate Herman Cain who died only weeks later of COVID-19.

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Now, as Nov. 3 approaches, Trump has doubled down, casting masks as a political Democratic or Republican thing. This effort has failed because a number of his sycophants have fallen short.

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Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Smith airs media messages, "I'm begging, begging you to wear masks." Apparently his boss wasn't listening. Then there's Dr.Deborah Birx, who for her first six months had the President's ear on all health issues but never challenged any of his frequent erroneous ones. Now, rarely heard from, she has rebooted herself as America's Grandmother pitching mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

Amidst all this, what most irks Trump is Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is both jealous and intimidated by the physician who has become known as America's Doctor both as its leading expert on COVID-19 as well as for his calm demeanor in soothing our anxieties.

In response, three months ago the president added to his kitchen cabinet Dr. Scott Atlas to play the anti-Fauci. Dr. Atlas from the Hoover Institution at Stanford is a neuroradiologist by trade but with no background in either infectious disease or epidemiology. He's conservative and quasi libertarian politically, contrarian by character and committed to echoing Trump's policies. He doesn't do vaccines or therapeutics. He does do opening all schools to in-person learning and all businesses to well, business. He claims that it's OK for young people to get COVID-19 because they rarely die from it. Not so. At this writing, there have been over 37,000 cases among returning college students and at least 64 have died.

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The takeaway for Mr. Trump should be: mask wearing saves lives and real men do wear masks.

For those among us still undecided, consider this: Surgeons wear masks, but imagine if you peered up from an operating table to see a maskless surgeon sneezing and spraying into your incision. It's gross and dangerous, but no more so than from any maskless American.

Marvin S. Wool, MD, writes from Townshend and Boston. He was formerly HMO Medical Director at Lahey Clinic and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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