Indignation in a Polarized State

Florida is an alternate universe, one toe dipped in each reality.

Florida is both a lockdown and a free state, where crossing invisible lines leads you either to counties governed by arbitrary rules created by power-hungry representatives with no background in disaster mitigation (hopefully no future in it either) or free townships and cities that treat their citizens as fully capable of personal risk mitigation, while providing meaningful community supports for their more vulnerable citizens. Free counties rely on neighborly behavior and an educated public, and the results speak for themselves: counties that mandate masks have had higher case numbers since October.

Those of us in mask-mandating counties often see one another when we venture into the free zones. The city I’m in is no longer even addressing mask mandates on their agenda, considering it a done deal while they refuse to respond to citizens who do not support the tyrannical measures we face. The city is closely bordered by 4 towns, 3 of which have remained open. Having moved not too long ago from an area that has remained free throughout, we are longing for the freedom we unknowingly left behind.

I wonder how many others devote large chunks of their budget to gas expenditures, left to choose between feeling like prisoners in our own homes, with little to do and few places to go, or driving out of town frequently just to bare our faces and breathe freely. To us, it’s worth the expense to be able to decide for ourselves. I also believe that the ability to make informed personal decisions about risk should be preserved for even the most vulnerable among us. Last I checked, you can ride a tiger off a cliff through a flaming hoop without a parachute while smoking a joint in California, so long as you are wearing a mask. Health, right?
 
Our leaders stand by idly, allowing their cities to crumble out of fear, while citizens and businesses have no recourse

I’m in the Hurricane Party part of Florida (the panhandle), where we are reminded of hurricane preparedness year in and year out; it’s been drilled into us that we should obediently clear the shelves at the local big box stores of batteries, water, canned food, and plywood, while we and other Floridians actually just stock up on liquor and libations. But having spent time in real post-disaster zones, I expected a national response to COVID-19: I expected that there was some plan to be followed, indicating that the CDC and WHO had been doing something since their advent in the late 1940s other than twiddling their thumbs on containment mitigation.

We turned a supply chain and accommodations issue into far more than it ever needed to be. I believe the answer to the difference in cases we are seeing among counties is in the masks themselves, as well as the behavior of citizens in mask-mandating districts who think they are doing enough to protect themselves by wearing a cloth or surgical mask.

When the public is offered (much less mandated) a measure of personal protection, it is critical that the measure must not only provide meaningful protection without harming the public; it also must not exacerbate whatever issue you are trying to resolve.

Unfortunately, face masks fail this test. Not only do cloth masks have no production standards or efficacy standards to test, as no two are alike and many are homemade in non-sterile environments, but surgical masks are expressly not for airborne contagion, as they gap around the nose and sides of the face. Furthermore, even higher-grade respirators do not filter exhalations in the size range of COVID-19 virions.

The market has also become saturated with counterfeit masks and respirators due to demand. But the worst part of all is the ability of commonly-used face coverings to aerosolize respiratory droplets that would otherwise have fallen in a predictable arc of approximately 6 feet.

Instead, these aerosolized particulates remain aloft for extended periods after passing through the mask, responding to airflow patterns (like HVAC systems and breathing), effectively evading the 6-feet-over or 6-feet-under rhetoric, as the aerosol range is 18-20 feet.

Plosive force, which is caused by respiratory activities such as sneezing, blowing raspberries, coughing, screaming, and snorting, among others, pushes larger droplets forcefully through woven fibers like flour through a sieve, and droplets that would have otherwise just fallen in that neat, predictable arc are now sent aloft within respiratory range, where they can remain for hours, effectively increasing atmospheric viral load in contained spaces. 

Combining this with the insistence on commingling in shared spaces, instead of addressing the supply chain issue and getting higher-grade PPE to those who cannot risk a major respiratory event, we have encouraged a false sense of security. Unfortunately, the vast majority of masks people are wearing do not filter airborne pathogens within the COVID-19 range on inhale either, as particle penetration can be up to 97% with cloth masks and 44% on surgical; I consider this critical information, since this is a low-viral-load transmissibility pathogen and health departments and government entities are handing out surgical masks to people who believe they are protected from a .06-1.4 micron pathogen.

As others have said, this is like seeing that Aleksander Doba crossed the Atlantic in a kayak and recommending all others follow suit instead of acknowledging the unlikeliness of such a feat. Those who recommend cloth and surgical masks as protective against something they expressly and by design are not intended to protect against should acknowledge that any success is the exception, not the rule, and these masks are most certainly not the public health baseline recommendation for airborne mitigation.

We must tread lightly when it comes to information that can kill people if overgeneralized for the sake of expediency. So for those of us in this chronic state of limbo–free, yet bound by measures we can fully refute against the do-gooders who oppose us–it is hard to find peace when the world at large oscillates between reason and radical and increasingly oppressive measures. 

When will we begin to hold our local leadership accountable for enforcing discriminatory measures that have resulted in excess deaths?

Megan Mansell is a former district education director over special populations integration, serving students who are profoundly disabled, immunocompromised, undocumented, autistic, and behaviorally challenged; she also has a background in hazardous environs PPE applications. She is experienced in writing and monitoring protocol implementation for immunocompromised public sector access under full ADA/OSHA/IDEA compliance. She can be reached at MeganKristenMansell@Gmail.com.