By Bill Sniffin, publisher
As a newly-vaccinated person, it’s easy to feel inspired to write another column about the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
Perhaps the least important piece of news about the year-long pandemic (which we will now simply refer to as COVID) is the increase in litter of face masks.
My wife and I are walkers and during this mild winter, we have walked dozens of miles all over our little town of Lander. Then, I started noticing all the used masks lying in the gutter or frozen to the ground
We often wear our masks so this is not an anti-mask column. But we generally pick up trash that is laying around. Over the past three months, especially, we have seen an abundance of masks strewn all over the place. Some we can pick up but most are stuck to the ground.
It will be wonderful when masks are no longer needed and we also will not see them as litter.
But on to more important topics. Back on Dec. 17, we had what seemed like a unique data point for Wyoming when it came to covid infections. On that day, we hit a milestone of 351 deaths in Wyoming and we also showed a marker of 35,113 laboratory-confirmed infections. That translates exactly to one death per 100 infections.
Since then, we surged to 596 deaths and 51,152 infections as I write this on Jan. 27. This means that slightly more than one out of 100 people who get infected have died since this virus arrived. It also means that less than one-tenth of 1% of Wyoming residents have died from the disease. Here in Wyoming these numbers don’t sound like too big a deal, but the national death toll of 416,000 deaths is just intimidating. It is equal to 72% of the population of Wyoming.
During this past year I wrote a number of columns taking some bold stances and making some self-important statements. I was sure that COVID was over-blown.
With more than 416,000 people officially dying from COVID across the country, I now believe this truly is a disaster.
The Spanish flu killed 675,000 people a century ago. A while back, I argued that Spanish flu killed a whole lot of young healthy people where the current scourge seemed to kill mainly old people. Well, these old people are people, too. This death toll is just too high to not be as careful as possible.
Pat Schmidt of Cheyenne argued with me about the total number of deaths that would occur in the U.S. in 2020. I contended even with the COVID, the numbers would be similar to 2019. I was wrong. There really were 300,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019. I owe Pat a Big Mac for that one. I also owe a burger to former Gov. Dave Freudenthal for the same bet.
My biggest concern was whether extreme efforts we saw to contain the virus were worth the destruction of our economy. In places like California, which had the most restrictions of any state, about one in every 10 people are being infected with the virus. So, did all those restrictions mean nothing? History will have to judge that. But for now, it is hard to tell.
First time we ever saw large groups of people wearing face masks was in 1989 on a trip to Taiwan. Lots of folks riding motor scooters wore masks because of the pollution. But you also saw people walking around the streets and in the buildings wearing masks. Why? “Those people are sick,” we were told. “Our culture says you wear a mask to protect others.”
Back in February and March of last year, you could see images on TV of people in South Korea and Vietnam. Everybody had a mask on. Every single person. Those countries came through the pandemic in spectacular fashion compared to the U.S. We’re told those countries had a terrible time with the SARS epidemic in 2003 and learned to wear masks then. That 17-year-old scare had little effect in our country.
Those countries already had a culture of people wearing masks when they are sick or to avoid getting sick. Thus, being told to wear a mask was not viewed as denying personal rights. They also were veterans of social distancing and contact tracing because of the earlier SARS epidemic.
In 2020, in the U.S., mask wearing was politicized. Wearing one was a badge of honor for Democrats and not wearing one showed you had an independent spirit and were probably voting Republican.
A better system would have been to somehow make wearing or not wearing a mask not be a political statement.