OPINION — South Dakota is now facing the same epidemic that has burned across the United Sates since last March. South Dakota currently reports 86 new cases per day and a total of 13,749 cases with 167 deaths (1.2% fatality rate). Lawrence County has a rapidly increasing caseload with 229 total cases. South Dakota is testing about 45,000 people per month with almost 20% of those people tested being positive. This is an unacceptable number, demonstrating how deeply the epidemic is rooted in South Dakota.

Here in Lead and Deadwood more people are wearing masks when out in public. Wearing a mask saves lives of the people around us, there is no question about that and, up to now, masks were recommended so that asymptomatic infection would not spread to others we come in contact with. Nonetheless, what should be seen as a selfless act to protect the vulnerable populations in our communities, has been widely politicized, preventing the practice from being universally observed. It is hard to understand the selfishness of people who refuse to observe this simple kindness. But there is now additional evidence that wearing a simple mask can actually reduce the severity of the disease if you are exposed while wearing a mask.

The degree of sickness with COVID-19 (or any disease caused by a virus for that matter) is based on the number of virus particles breathed in: an infection with 100 virus particles (for example) is likely to make you less sick than if you are infected by 1,000 or 1,000,000 virus particles. This effect has recently been demonstrated: people wearing a simple cloth mask breathe in less than 1/5 to 1/10 of the number of particles inhaled by people not wearing any mask at all. This is not to say mask-wearing will prevent infection, but once infected, people wearing masks are less likely to have severe illness requiring hospitalization and less likely to die.

Now there is no reason, selfish or altruistic, not to wear a mask – even in South Dakota. To put it simply wear a mask not to die!

Next week I will report on the intriguing use of the polio vaccine developed in the 1950s to increase immunity and prevent COVID19.

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