Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Op-Ed: Support your fellow community member

by DR. JEFFREY D. WILSON, D.O./Guest Opinion
| October 16, 2020 1:00 AM

The public mask mandate has become a divisive point of contention in our community. I would like to express my support of continuing a mandate to wear masks indoors in public and would like to explain why. I am a physician at Kootenai Health and I provide care for patients after they have been admitted from the emergency room. The hospital has a special wing for COVID-19 patients where nurses, doctors and technicians care for COVID-19 positive patients. I’ve worked there at various times this summer and have taken direct care of many patients with COVID-19. The degree of illness has varied widely, from patients on minimal oxygen admitted out of precaution, to dying patients that left us too soon. I will not share facts and statistics about the disease because I'm sure everyone reading this letter is burned out, fed up, and numb to the news with COVID-19 data at this point.

What I will do is ask you to consider masking this winter in an effort to save other people from getting sick with COVID-19 and to help our hospital manage potential over-capacity. I’ve been a physician for 12 years now, trained through the H1N1 season, and have never seen a disease or time period that has burdened our health care system as much as COVID-19.

I’m aware of arguments against masks, e.g. infringing on personal liberties, you believe it won’t affect you if you get it, and the invasion of government into your own personal rights as a human being and citizen of our great country. I will not disagree with any of your points; however, I just believe it's a compassionate, loving, thoughtful thing to do for your neighbor and community. What I am in favor of is this: wear a mask in public places, limit contact this winter with people outside your "safe bubble," and try to do your part to help our community. We do know that wearing a mask is effective. I cite as an example here that two weeks after the controversial mask mandate was passed by the Panhandle Health board, we saw a precipitous drop in cases admitted to our COVID-19 unit here at Kootenai Health.

I understand that masks are not a cure all. But we do know that they are effective. I’m not advocating for a full lockdown, but I believe wearing masks slows down the community spread which directly affects our hospital and employees who work so very hard to take care of patients in a grueling environment with the PPE restrictions, no visitors allowed, and fear of exposure and loss of health and work days. If people chose on their own to wear a mask, we wouldn’t need a mandate. But experience shows that a mandate helps people decide to wear masks.

Even non-severe cases affect our community including loss of work, sick days, school closures, etc. Our community is growing rapidly right before our eyes, and with our hospital seeing record census numbers, we are all concerned as to what the winter will bring. It is unbelievable that a respiratory virus tore through our country in the summertime. It is daunting to imagine what the second wave in the winter will be like here when our hospital is already at capacity. Public health decisions are too costly to politicize. Let’s try not to be right, but to get it right. Thank you for reading, and if you or your family are admitted to Kootenai Health for COVID-19 or anything else, there will be hundreds of health care workers who will be here for you and we will do our absolute best to take excellent care of you no matter your views on COVID-19 or masks. We will give you the best care possible to get you well and ask for your support as a fellow community member in the months ahead.

The views and opinions expressed in this letter are my own and are not written as a representative of Kootenai Health.

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Dr. Jeffrey D. Wilson, D.O., is a resident of Post Falls.