Where I Stand: It’s time to move on with life

I’m tired of COVID. It’s been almost two years and we have all had to deal with lockdowns, masking, and travel restrictions. And now, here we go again. Another new “variant.” This shouldn’t surprise us. With so much virus spread across the globe, there are probably already several other variants on the horizon, and there will be many more.

The good news is that we are not in the same place we were almost two years ago. We know so much more about this virus, and how it spreads. We have vaccines and therapeutics that drastically reduce serious symptoms and hospitalizations from the virus.

We know that seniors are the most at risk, especially those with pre-existing co-morbidities. We also know that younger people, especially children under 18, are at miniscule levels of risk. Nationally, (based on CDC statistics for January 6th) the mortality rate for children (under 18) is 0.010 %. That’s one fatality for every 10,000 cases. Young people from 18 to 49 years of age also have very little to fear from contracting COVID with a mortality rate of only 0.22%, with 50 to 64-year-olds facing a mortality rate of 1.72%. This is still quite low considering that all these numbers include a large percentage of those with very serious co-morbidities. Healthy people in these age classes have even less to fear. As mentioned above, seniors are very a different story. The mortality rate for age 65 and up is a staggering 10.71%. This is a thousand times greater risk of death than for children under 18. Certainly, our objective should be to prioritize our resources to protect the most vulnerable among us, our seniors.

Our county has just come through its worst COVID spike since the pandemic began. It nearly doubled the spike of the fall of 2020 (November-January). Things have settled down for us lately and it may be instructive to examine the distribution of cases in Plumas County over the various age (risk) classes.

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Of all the cases we have had since the beginning, only 16 percent fall in the high-risk category of 65+ years old. Eighty four percent of our cases since the beginning are made up of extremely low risk to low-risk age groups (from 1 year to 64 years old). So, considering all cases from day one, we did a pretty good job of preventing infection in our vulnerable seniors (only 16 percent of all cases). Because we have learned more and more about the virus and done a good job of protecting the more vulnerable among us, our current case numbers are most likely overwhelmingly among the lowest risk groups.  Because of this, case numbers are no longer an important indicator of the threat situation that we face. This is all good news.

So, let’s talk vaccination. Vaccination has two positive effects:  First, it protects the person receiving the vaccine from serious disease and death. Secondly, if vaccination prevents people from contracting and spreading the disease, it can protect others who are not vaccinated by helping to create the effect of “herd immunity”, which can greatly reduce or eliminate the circulation of the disease.

Currently, according to Plumas County’s website, 62% of our population has been vaccinated. Not a bad number I think, but what about the seniors who are most vulnerable? Again, according to Plumas County, we have vaccinated 94% of our population 65 years and older. This is great news because individuals who have been vaccinated have little risk of serious disease or hospitalization. In addition to vaccination, we have many people with natural immunity who have chosen not to be vaccinated. So, the effective percentage of people with significant levels of immunity to serious illness is even greater. More really fantastic news.

However, we have also learned, after over a year of vaccinations, that these vaccines do not do an exceptional job of preventing the catching and spreading of the disease. That is why mask mandates have been reinstituted among vaccinated individuals in an attempt to interrupt transmission. Now, with this latest variant of the disease, so called “breakthrough cases” are becoming more and more commonplace. This really indicates that the vaccines are not going to be very useful in stopping the overall spread of the virus. This has some major implications to the strategy that our public health officials and politicians have embarked on. Large scale vaccine mandates (premised on the assumption that they would help provide “herd immunity”) for the greater public good, no longer have a scientific basis and instead are doomed to failure. In fact, the mandates themselves are depleting our ability to deal with people who get sick as more health care professionals (many with natural immunity from contracting COVID) are being let go from their jobs.

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So far, I have not mentioned masks as a defensive strategy against the spread of COVID. To make a long story short, we have now learned that only tightly sealed N-95 masks have been shown to provide measurable protection against contracting the disease or spreading it. This makes these high-quality masks a good choice for people with compromised immune systems, healthcare workers, and others who might be substantially exposed during their workday. In fact, anyone who truly desires or needs extra protection can add an N-95 mask to their risk management plan. However, mandating the widespread use of cloth masks has not been shown to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to any appreciable extent.

So, here’s the rub. Why do our public health officials continue to require ineffective cloth masks in schools and other indoor venues? The public has been educated about the risks, has been provided effective vaccines and therapeutics, and can voluntarily decide what risk management strategy is best for them based on their age group and any preexisting conditions. There really is no substantive reason for continuing as if it is still the spring of 2020.

Initially, without a lot of information about the disease, and given the shortages of high-quality N-95 masks, I can understand the widespread policy of requiring cloth masks. After all, it seemed there was no downside. However, now almost two years later, science has identified huge downsides to mandating masks, especially in schools. Aside from the CDC’s own study being unable to show a measurable benefit to the wearing of cloth masks at schools in Georgia, several researchers have identified an array of significant problems with wearing masks daily in schools. Mask Induced Exhaustion Syndrome (MIES) occurs after repeated and long-term wearing of masks in schools. This is composed of a drop in oxygenation levels, a rise in CO2, respiratory impairment, elevated temperatures, and increased skin problems such as dermatitis and acne.  In addition to these documented negative health effects add the psychological effects of not being able to see the faces of students, teachers, and staff as well as the constant aggravation of wearing a mask for hours on end. One must question why?

It is an inconvenience and perhaps a personal affront to have to mask up to buy a loaf of bread or make a deposit at the bank. However, to ask our school’s students, teachers, and staff to wear a mask for the entire day, day in and day out for the entire school year, year after year, is unnecessary and is causing real damage in our schools. Why on earth would we require masking which, after scientific study, has shown no measurable effect in preventing the spread of COVID, and has shown many ill effects from the masking itself, especially when vaccines and therapeutics are widely available?

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It is time to take a breath and reassess:  are the “public health” measures we are taking providing more harm than benefit? We have plentiful, effective vaccines and we have excellent therapeutics. We know we can slightly enhance our ability to avoid infection by choosing to wear an N-95 mask. It is time to move on and allow citizens to take responsibility for their own health, and that of their children. It is time to move on and get back to being citizens of the greatest country the world has ever known. It is time to move on with life!

Sam Wilbanks

Sierra Valley