COVID is a social justice issue and you should be wearing a mask at activist events, even outside; Frann Michel explains.
image by Randall Munroe xkcd CC BY-NC 2.5 https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/covid_precaution_level.png
music source: https://youtu.be/ltjBT_TuUVA
People, folks, comrades. I'm here to explain why everyone at protests or other actions--even outdoors--should be wearing a high-filtration respirator--that is, an N95 or K94 or KN95 or P100 or elastomeric with high-quality filters.
I'll call them masks for simplicity, although it's no longer really enough to tie a piece of fabric round your face. That's better than nothing, but we're beyond the era when a cloth or surgical mask was the best we could manage because of short supply.
The CDC website will direct you to sources for free N95 respirators in your area, although you'll need to call those locations to find out what they have in stock.
In Portland, you can also contact the folks at MaskBlocPDX. Their Twitter page has a link where you can ask for the kind of mask you need and arrange for contactless pickup.
But because no mask is perfect, and because the SARS2 virus is rapidly evolving ever more transmissible variants, we are not beyond the era when your mask protects me, and my mask protects you.
I know, I know, that we are tired of the age of pandemics. I know that in summer that mask gets really hot and uncomfortable.
Because of lack of testing or lack of reports of testing, we are undercounting cases. Indeed, one recent study suggested US cases may be thirty (three-oh, 30) times higher than official numbers. Because of narrowed categorizations of what counts as being hospitalized for COVID (only those receiving certain treatments) or what counts as dying of COVID (only a limited number of weeks after a positive test) we are also likely undercounting hospitalizations and deaths.
Because of attempts to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and back to work and back to the office and back to spending more, the messaging from official and establishment sources has been minimizing the dangers.
But this is not necessarily a mild disease; it is not the flu or a cold.
It is true that those who are vaccinated and boosted are less likely to suffer the most acute cases, and so getting all possible vaccines and boosters remains an important precaution. But it's also true that in February, for instance, 40 percent of those who died were vaccinated and 15 % were boosted.
And vaccines do not prevent the transmission of cases, which allows the virus to spread, reproduce, evolve, and develop new variants, so that having had Covid once does not mean you won't get it again, and repeated cases carry additional risks.
Recent variants are more infectious. Where the original strain had an R0 of 3, meaning each person with the infection passed it on to three others, the BA4 & BA5 variants now on the rise have an R-0 of 18.
Although in the past we've been mostly able to have outdoor events that do not turn into super-spreader events, new variants mean that even outdoors we should be taking precautions.
These new variants are not only more contagious but may also be more severe.
And keep in mind that even mild Covid is linked to brain damage, and post-covid problems include cardiovascular, kidney, and other health impairments, including an increased rate of death from heart attack and stroke in the year following having had Covid.
Even asymptomatic cases can lead to Long Covid, which even the CDC estimate affects about 20% of those who get the disease. As with many other viruses, including SARSone, HIV, and Epstein-Barr, the effects of infection can unfold not just over days or weeks, but over years of illness and early death. Some have suggested that because of its capacity to damage to the immune system, Covid can accurately be described as "airborne HIV."
Of course, the risks are greater for those with preexisting comorbidities --a category which, even at the start of the pandemic, according to the CDC included 60% of the US population. It's worse for those with suppressed or impaired immune systems--including those suffering from the stresses of injustice--or who are older, or who are more exposed to the virus because of their essential work. This means that the ill effects have also had greater impacts in racialized communities.
So caution about Covid is a matter of social justice including racial justice and disability justice.
So, do you care about racial justice and disability justice? Do you care about at least looking as though you care about racial and disability justice?
Do you care about making events welcoming to all your allies and potential allies, including people who are old, or pregnant, or who have disabilities, or comorbidities, or compromised immune systems, or loved ones who are old or pregnant or immune-compromised or immune-suppressed?
Do you believe that all our struggles are connected, that we are all connected, that we need to try to be the change we want to see in the world?
Do you care about resisting the failure of the United States' so-called public health system? Do you care about maybe being a little less recognizable to facial-recognition systems in the photos and videos the police are recording at the protest? Do you care about you and your allies and accomplices being as strong and sharp as possible for the long struggle ahead?
Do you care about the lives and health and well-being of your family, friends, and communities? Do you care about your own life and health?
Yes, to any of those? Then you should be wearing a mask. Yes, even outside. Yes, even if you're vaccinated. Yes, even if you've already had COVID and it was mild. Let's do all we can to be here for each other for the long struggle.
Wear a mask!