As a veteran and a former U.S. Army physician, Independence Day is important to me. I have taken two oaths in my life: One to defend the Constitution of the United States, and one to work tirelessly to treat those in need of medical care. While in the military, I learned that during wartime our troops often suffer the most casualties from infectious disease. Today, we are at war — war against an invisible enemy, the COVID-19 virus. We have seen the casualties, the enemy is right here at home and it is taking hold. Today, we all must collectively exert our shared personal liberties to do everything we can to be free of the impact of this virus on our health and our economy.
Indeed, new daily coronavirus cases topped 50,000 this past week — the largest single-day total since the pandemic began — with 45 out of 50 states reporting more new infections than in the week prior. Given this explosive growth nationally, as well as the significant uptick in COVID-19 cases in Joplin and Southwest Missouri, we must come together to reverse the trend. During this Independence Day, I am reminded that as a people we are free — not free to do whatever we want but free to do what we ought to do as a society. Now we must share the collective responsibility to protect ourselves, our families and our fellow citizens and limit the spread of this virus.
We all value our personal freedoms in this country, and we are all growing weary from feelings of isolation and a loss of normalcy. However, if we fail to adhere to basic public health practice, we will pay an even greater price in the number of those who lose their livelihoods or, even worse, suffer and die from COVID-19. By adopting basic public health guidelines, we can make a difference in the cost of this scourge on our community. They include: If you’re sick, stay at home; if you were exposed to the disease, self-quarantine for two weeks; wash your hands frequently when out; stay physically distant (more than 6 feet); and when around others (outside your immediate household and especially indoors), wear a mask.
Scientists who study the transmission of respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19, say that infections typically happen when a healthy person comes into contact with the respiratory droplets of an infected person when he or she coughs, sneezes or speaks. Studies show that droplets from a cough can spread a distance of 12 feet — twice the amount recommended that people put between themselves and others. Wearing a mask can significantly reduce the exchange of spray between individuals.
All of us must recognize that none of us is immune to this disease and we need to wear masks as a temporary sacrifice to protect ourselves and others. An increasing number of government officials are extolling the virtues of mask-wearing, as they see an alarming uptick in coronavirus cases in virtually every state in the country. Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia are among those who are recognizing just how high the stakes have become, are choosing to wear masks and are recommending that others do so.
Additionally, we must not forget the tremendous risks faced by our physicians, nurses, other medical professionals and frontline responders. For as a society, we cannot risk overwhelming those systems due to the increasing spread of COVID-19.
During this Independence Day, we are reminded that through wars and crises our country’s citizens have always rallied and sacrificed for one another, no matter what their beliefs. Today, the most patriotic thing any of us can do to help our nation — and our own Southwest Missouri community — to combat the economic and health impacts of the coronavirus is to actively work to slow the spread by wearing a mask.
Through our shared commitment to one another, we will overcome this devastating public health crisis.
Dr. Marc B. Hahn is president and CEO of Kansas City University, which opened a Joplin campus in 2017.