6 Feet And A Mask, Clean Hands And A Smile

As a physician and employer in St. George, I’m concerned that we have let our guard down a bit too far, too fast. We are seeing a steady rise of new COVID-19 cases in our community, most of which are preventable by 6 feet of courtesy space, a mask and a smile, and clean hands with any old ordinary soap.

Like everyone else, I’m a bit worn out with COVID-19 to be sure. Even as a surgeon who routinely wears a mask, it feels like an odd new normal. I feel a bit stuffy. It’s socially awkward. It makes it harder for people to hear you. Still, many of my patients are high risk. I worry for them and about them.

While I miss warm handshakes and occasional hugs, I know I could be contagious a few days before I cracked a temperature or felt sick. So 6 feet of respectful space, a smile behind the mask, and clean hands is both a courtesy, and a sign of solidarity.

For masks, I prefer the style with the band behind my head, instead of bands that pull on tender ears and interfere with hearing aids. If possible, an N95 gives the best filtration. The half-dome formed by an N95 is easier for breathing than many other styles. I predict masks will be the standard until vaccines are available, and production is ramping up. Please wear your mask properly. It must stay over your nose, as well as your mouth.

For me, the mask is a symbol of love and respect — for my patients, my staff, and perfect strangers — and of course for family and friends, too. I know I would be contagious for days before I even knew I was sick, and I don’t want anyone to fall ill because I was an unwitting carrier.

Several people in my family are high risk: 6 seniors, my dad in particular, and one other. The isolation is really tough on them! I miss them. I love them and love to visit; with 6 feet and a mask, for their safety. If I’m careful, I can literally be there for them and have a little peace of mind.

An employee at my favorite big-box grocery store just confessed their 3rd employee just tested positive for COVID-19. Although their manager is reluctant to offend by asking people to keep their masks on, this development may necessitate asking people nicely to leave their masks on the entire time they are in the store, until they return to their car. The produce, frozen food, and other store sections are no safer than the entry point.

As a physician, I’m asked all the time, “how do you know what you think you know?” The extremely well-respected Lancet medical journal just published a scientific article that supports social distancing, with 6 feet or 2 meters being ideal. Masks are common knowledge; the better the filtration and fit, the better off you and those around you will be. Find the Lancet article here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31142-9/abstract

SWUHealth.org/covid has local COVID-19 numbers for the Southwest Utah region, by county. You can see the number of new cases per day in Washington County, how many have recovered, and how many are hospitalized. My basic formula is to take the number of people who test positive, minus those who have recovered, and figure each person infects 2 more. Then divide by the Washington County population of 155,000. Based on those numbers, I figure we have about 1 in 250 to 1 in 300 people walking around COVID-19 positive, and only about 1/3 of them know it. That’s my educated guess, but I am not an epidemiologist.

The HealthyTogether app from the State of Utah Health Department is a wonderful tool and reference, as is the CDC. The HealthyTogether app supports contact tracing for those who opt in, and is available at: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/.

– Dr. Richens

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