Concern for fellow citizens should bring mask compliance

By AMANDA SEXTON-FERGUSON,

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, I have been vigilant about disinfecting, washing my hands, limiting my access to groups of people, and wearing a mask any time I am in a public place.  I was weary at any contact with those outside my immediate family, especially with our local numbers steadily increasing.  I was lucky and stayed healthy, even as I continued my work as a journalist, an essential profession, through the state shutdown and reopening.

My luck ran out a couple of weeks ago after an hour-long visit with my sisters.  All three of us ended up testing positive for COVID-19, and all three of us experienced very different illnesses.

I discovered I had been exposed to the virus when my nephew, Hunter, called me from the hospital.  My sister, Stephanie, was extremely ill with what seemed like a stomach virus and was heavily dehydrated.  The hospital tested her for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, my sister, Deana, was suffering from what she thought was an asthma flare up from the Saharan dust storm that blanketed the Southeast.  Deana has moderate to severe asthma, and the dust storm had given her a hacking cough, wheezing and sinus issues.

I had been suffering from sinusitis since March when pollen turned everything in our world yellow.  Sinus pressure had my head in a constant state of congestion, but I did notice that the dust storm had irritated my sinuses more than usual.

As soon as I received Hunter’s call, I sought medical advice from an RN who recommended I quarantine until Stephanie got her test results.  I didn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, but I wasn’t going to run the risk of exposing someone else.  My family hunkered down through the weekend.

By the next Monday morning, my sisters both had been tested and neither had received her test results, so I called Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital’s Fast Track Clinic and scheduled an appointment to be tested.   By the time I was brought into a room to see a nurse practitioner, I had freaked myself out so bad about the COVID-19 test itself, my blood pressure was dangerously high. 

It turns out my research overstated the invasiveness of the test, and I put myself in panic over nothing.  After I was swabbed, I thought, “That was it?”  Soon my panic took a different turn.

With Tyler Holmes having the fast track testing, I had my results in a little over an hour later.  Positive.  I did have a sinus infection, and apparently, I had extremely mild to no symptoms.  My sisters, neither of whom knew the results to their tests at that time, were both extremely ill, and we knew it was likely COVID-19. 

Both had fever, body aches and fatigue.  Stephanie was able to recover at home but swears she lost 25 pounds during the 14 days she was actively sick.  Although she has recovered, the fatigue remains.

Deana’s asthma flareup was actually the beginnings of pneumonia, and she would be admitted into Baptist DeSoto Hospital for more than a week with trouble breathing, the lung infection, high fever and dehydration.  As I am writing this column, she is still in-patient at Baptist DeSoto, but she has made great strides in her recovery.  I humbly ask for your continued prayers for her.

After testing positive, I did more research – most of which was contradictory and vague.  You would think with COVID-19 bringing the world to a screeching halt, scientists would know more.  I was convinced the virus that had infected me was going to take a turn for the worse, and I would end up on a ventilator in some intensive care unit all alone. 

After watching my father linger on a ventilator for 10 days and finally succumbing to his illness after becoming septic from the seasonal flu in 2018, with my sisters and me by his side the entire time, I could not imagine not having someone who loved me sitting at my bedside.  But that is the sad reality of COVID-19 – isolation.

I became obsessed with taking my temperature and checking my oxygen count on a small finger monitor.  Told to take my vitals every six hours or so, I was checking them six times an hour.  I lost my sense of smell and taste, developed a cough (not a hacking cough), and I did have shortness of breath from exertion.  Pretty much, I felt tired. 

There was no turn for the worse, and again, my obsession for research just increased my already high anxiety.  After 14 days, I tested negative for COVID-19, and I am back at work COVID-free.

I was extremely relieved that I did not infect anyone else with the virus.  No member of my staff, friends and colleagues, or even my husband and son tested positive for the virus.  They could have had severe symptoms, or worse, they might not have survived. 

Although I have the antibodies to protect me temporarily from contracting COVID-19 again, I still practice caution.  I wear my mask, limit my contact with the public, and wash my hands and disinfect common areas at our office.  I do it to keep members of my staff and those who work in my building healthy.  It is the right thing to do.

When dealing with a contagious and possibly deadly disease for some, common courtesy is required.  If the world’s leading healthcare officials say wearing a mask will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, why wouldn’t you comply?  Especially after local physicians and healthcare professionals – those most of us know and trust? – echo that sentiment, why wouldn’t you comply?  What reason would these people have to mislead the public about the possible contraction of a deadly virus?

I truly am amazed at the conspiracy theories.  Yes, COVID-19 is real.  It is highly contagious, and it has led to nearly 1,300 deaths in Mississippi since March. 

Do I think some people are exploiting the virus and our fears for political gain?  Absolutely.  It is an election year, and our country is as polarized as ever.  However, there is no way my personal physician here in Winona is misleading this community in regard to COVID-19 for personal political beliefs or as part of a worldwide conspiracy. 

I am not one to form an opinion without educating myself on a matter first.  I am certainly not a conformist.  I ask questions.  I do research.  And I definitely do not believe everything I read on social media.  (Check your sources, people!)

My personal belief system is simple.  First, it isn’t my business what you do behind closed doors.  It isn’t my business or anyone else’s, so don’t judge.  Second, treat people the way you want to be treated regardless of race, gender, religion, political views, what have you.  That’s it.  Mind your business and be kind.

So when the medical community urges all Americans to wear face masks to protect others from being infected with coronavirus, you would think people would comply out of common decency, right?  Well, that has not been the case.

When the number of COVID-19 cases have increased to the point that Mississippi’s healthcare system is nearing complete overload, state and local leaders made wearing masks in public places a requirement. This sounds like there is a statewide mandate I think that is pretty reasonable, considering healthcare professionals in Italy were forced to choose which patients were treated for COVID after all of their healthcare resources were exhausted.

I don’t think I was prepared for the public outrage on wearing a mask.  There are several laws in place that require public compliance for the good of public health and safety.  We are required by law to wear seatbelts, punishable by a fine. We are required to carry liability insurance on our car, punishable by a fine.  We are forbidden from drinking and driving, using illegal drugs, buying hard liquor on Election Day.  We are required to wear clothing in public places, forbidden from using profanity in public places, required to educate our children, have a license to get married and even catch a fish.  Where is the outrage for these laws? 

Requiring people to wear masks in public helps prevent the spread of coronavirus.  It is the only known means of protection we have against the virus.  Yes, it will protect you from contracting the virus, but it will mostly protect the people you come in contact with every day – some of them whom will not survive the virus.

Wearing a mask prevents your fellow man from contracting a deadly virus.  I don’t understand the outrage.  It is simply the right thing to do.  Our leaders should not be forced to set a monetary penalty for asking citizens to help protect the people in our community from serious illness and possible death.  Citizens should want to do it to protect the people in our community from serious illness and possible death. 

It is the right thing to do.  It is the Christian thing to do.  It is basic human decency.