The Fights Over Public Health Recommendations Told Our Enemies How to Strike Us

Can you live a few days with a mild inconvenience if it means keeping everyone safe?

René F. Najera, MPH, DrPH

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If you will not comply with a request to stay home if you’ve been exposed to COVID, are you going to comply and turn off the lights during an air raid? (Image from image from the British Ministry of Information via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain] )

With the recent news that an unqualified judge struck down the requirement for masks on public transportation (airplanes, trains, buses, etc.), videos started surfacing of people celebrating the end of the masking requirement. Don’t get me wrong, please. I want to celebrate the end of the need for masks. However, as an epidemiologist with advanced understanding of infectious disease dynamics, I cannot celebrate yet.

Just last week, Philadelphia ordered masks to be worn indoors in public spaces where crowding is possible. This created confusion about the airport, but the rules are simple if you pay attention to what you’re doing. You wear your mask in the terminal, and then it is up to the airline if they want you to mask on the plane. But, as with almost everything in this country, the decision of the unqualified judge has turned people against one another and collectively distracted us from things that matter.

For example, more and more flocks of birds are testing positive for an avian influenza strain, killing them. Bald eagles and chickens used for food are being affected. If this keeps up into the next flu season, the probability of someone acquiring both an avian flu and a human flu simultaneously increases. If that happens, and those two strains share genes, the COVID-19 pandemic will seem like a walk in the park compared to an avian influenza pandemic. Yes, yes… The probability is low, but it is not zero, and it will increase if the zoonotics are not brought under control.

Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about the decline in mental health among teenagers in the United States. A staggering 1 in 5 teens reported suicidal ideation. Forty percent reported symptoms of depression. Just as we are arguing about public health interventions for an infectious disease, we probably will go to war on what to do to fix our kids.

A few months ago, I read the novel “2034: A Novel of the Next World War” by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Retired). In it, Admiral Stravridis imagines what kind of incidents could…

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René F. Najera, MPH, DrPH

DrPH in Epidemiology. Associate/JHBSPH. Adjunct/GMU. Epidemiologist. Father. Husband. (He/Him/His/El)