Cottrel: Stores may be reopening, but science background urges caution

Columnist Pam Cottrel says she knows she’s protecting others when she wears a mask.
Columnist Pam Cottrel says she knows she’s protecting others when she wears a mask.

This week retail stores are reopening for business in Ohio.

I won’t be there.

I’m not afraid. Nope. I’m just being cautious, and I am allowed to make that choice for myself.

Since I’m no longer a spring chicken, I don’t want to catch this virus until better treatment protocols have been developed. On top of that I don’t want to unknowingly give it to people I love or even to total strangers. I’m patient. I can wait.

You see, my college degree is not in journalism, it is in comprehensive - actually intensive - sciences. I trained to teach secondary school science, grades 7 to 12, any level of science, any kind of science. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in labs and microbiology was one of my favorite classes. Got an A.

It is wise, I have learned, to develop a healthy respect for pathogens, and a working understanding of the logical actions we follow to avoid getting sick.

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When a life threatening microorganism is present, defying basic sanitation rules can be compared to defying gravity when climbing a tree. The germs and gravity don’t care and they can hurt you.

When science is being fudged to make a political point, a little bell goes off in my brain. The science is not compatible with the story. It is illogical.

However when the science behind government guidelines are making sense, I listen. And I’m paying attention to Ohio’s guidelines right now.

We as a species are facing a unique enemy and we are struggling to adapt. Through trial and error and careful observation, we are intelligently developing responses and plans to confront this unpredictable virus.

There are myriad opinions even among the most experienced virus fighters and infection preventionists. This pandemic is one of the biggest challenges that we have ever confronted because it is global.

At the beginning, back in January and February, projections were made based on what scientists knew. Back then we only had a fragmented understanding of this invisible monster, but as it attacked one city after another we learned it had a terrible potential.

Since there was no cure for the virus, and it made some people deathly ill, humans resorted to the one sure thing we had in our arsenal - quarantine, or basically separating the well from the sick.

Now we are seeing that the huge numbers of fatalities predicted in those original projections have not occurred. Numbers have been bad, but not as bad as predicted.

I must say I see that as a reason to be somewhat pleased. It could be that our numbers are actually low because of the drastic closures that happened immediately. Our first mission has indeed been accomplished. We did slow the spread of the virus.

I do not believe the predictions were lies. No, I don’t. There is no great conspiracy.

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Looking at where we were three months ago and what little we knew when those projections were made, it is amazing that projections were as close as they were.

Perhaps some exaggeration was also employed in the original predictions, but I’ll forgive them that. After all, we humans pay better attention to worse case scenarios. And we needed to pay attention and take the threat seriously.

So here we are

We have been told that it is time to reopen the economy. This may seem too early to some and overdue to others. I get it. No one knows for sure.

We do know that we have to get people back to work however. Logic tells us this must be done in a structured, controlled manner. We cannot afford to cause the number of new virus cases to explode and overwhelm our hospitals again.

In other words, reopening the retail stores is not meant to be Black Friday shopping folks. We have to use common sense.

Hand washing, hand sanitizer and social distancing will continue to be important to fight this pandemic. Please take time to read the precise state guidelines. State guidelines encourage the wearing of cloth masks.

Please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me masks won’t help. I know better from experience.

Of course those N-95 masks are best, but the handmade cloth masks really do help protect others by keeping our own “germs” close to us and away from them.

Put simply, cloth masks reduce how many particulates a person exhales into the air, because the mask catches some and slows the rest down so it cannot travel far.

When we all wear the masks, there are fewer “germs” in the air between us, and we are all exposed to less.

Wearing a mask does not mean I am a sheep, unless you figure that wearing eyeglasses to drive your car or wearing pants in public is a restriction of your freedom.

I understand that the cloth mask alone will not protect me. But if we all wear the masks we are in a much better situation.

I’ll be wearing a mask in public because I have the freedom to care about others and I want this pandemic to be over for all of us.

I hope this reopening goes well. I hope the number of virus cases gets smaller and smaller and that step by step we gradually move into normalcy.

Until then please do what you can to protect yourself and others, and be a good neighbor.

Keep on keeping on.