‘We run the risk of losing a lot of lives,’ local public health expert says
Life may seem to be getting back to normal as restaurants, retail stores, salons and barbershops reopen, but unless Central Texas residents observe social distancing requirements and follow such recommendations as wearing masks in public places, “we run the risk of losing a lot of lives,” a local public health expert says.
"We can't afford to go back out and act like this didn't happen and that there isn't a pandemic in full force," says Dr. Jackson Griggs, the CEO of the Waco Family Health Center.
Griggs says he understands why stores are reopening and says what made the return to business possible were the shelter in place orders issued in March to stem the spread of the virus.
"I am proud of what we did, we really won the first round of this fight in our community," Griggs said.
But, he says, the fight is far from over.
"If we try to go back to living life pre-pandemic, we run the risk of losing a lot of lives," he said.
"We want business to be open to help the economy, (but) if we throw caution into the wind this virus will do a lot more damage to our economy," says Griggs.
"Currently on average 12,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 each week," says Griggs.
"That is on par with cancer and heart disease deaths, but those are also the numbers with social distancing measures in place," he says.
"If we just went back to normal we could see that death toll number double or triple,” he said.
Face masks are one proven method of limiting transmission of the highly-contagious virus, for example, but although public health officials at every level of government recommend the masks, state and federal officials have stopped short of requiring their use in public.
In fact, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Tuesday sent letters to Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, Travis County, the City of Austin, and Dallas County in which he admonished officials for issuing orders requiring residents to wear masks in public, saying “they are free to choose whether to wear one or not.”
Regardless, Griggs say masks are a must.
"Is it very, very important that as a community we all link arms and agree we will wear masks," says Griggs.
"It’s inconvenient for all of us and it feels embarrassing or awkward but it's something we all need to do together," he says.
Griggs says that wearing a mask doesn't necessary help the wearer, but prevents the spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers, those who have the virus and don't know.
"It's the healthy younger population that are less likely to show symptoms that need to be wearing masks every time they go out," says Griggs.
"You are protecting those who have pre-existing health conditions when you do this."
As for how long masks will be necessary, Griggs says be prepared for the long haul.
"I can't look into a crystal ball and find out when this ends," he says.
"What I can tell you is that we need to get used to modifying our everyday lives because it’ll be our new experience for at least the next several months," he said.