In a discussion about the current state of Moab’s response to COVID-19, Grand County Council Member Rory Paxman expressed concern last week that a collective push from the hospital and health department to wear masks might be too much, also expressing concerns about “scrutiny” toward people who do not wear masks.
“I’m a little bit nervous about making [masks] mandatory. I’m really worried that people are going to be scrutinized and threatened if they don’t wear a mask, so I just want to make sure that we’re not spreading this mask thing to where it’s going to be a problem,” Paxman said during a council discussion with Moab Regional Hospital and Southeast Utah Health Department leadership.
Paxman also asked about the impact that COVID-19 antibodies or a lack thereof might have on the local community. Moab has seen only four cases and a much lower positive case rate compared to the rest of Utah and especially the rest of the country. Paxman also asked about health officials’ plans for the coming flu season.
“In terms of people taking vigilante action against people not wearing masks, we would absolutely not promote that or recommend that or encourage that,” said hospital CEO Jen Sadoff. “We would like to encourage compassion and caring.” Sadoff went on to say that wearing a mask is not really about protecting the wearer, but rather, “it’s about protecting the others around you.” She also said it is important to “model” for the community, as leaders, that “we want to keep Moab open, and that means keeping our transmission rates low.”
Dylan Cole, the chief medical officer at Moab Regional Hospital, concurred with Sadoff’s representation about the purpose of nonmedical masks. “When you talk about a cloth facial covering or even a basic procedural mask, the real benefit is in protecting those around you,” Cole said. “It does a pretty darn good job of keeping those respiratory droplets that, if you cough or sneeze, would otherwise have the potential to land on surfaces and to spread in the air to those in close contact with you.”
Cole and Sadoff both said there was some degree of protection for the wearer of facial coverings but that they were ultimately about protecting others, particularly when wearing them in indoor or public spaces.
Evidence of coronavirus immunity, seasonality is lacking
In addressing Paxman’s questions about immunity and whether coronavirus antibodies could protect people who have caught and recovered from the virus, Cole said that there was a lack of evidence that people develop an immunity to COVID-19 after being exposed to it.
First, though, Cole said he wanted to dispel the myth that COVID-19 will just go away in the heat of the summer months. “With this particular virus, it’s not yet clear to us that we’re going to see a significant or a large reduction in transmission in the summer months,” Cole said. “That may happen to some degree, but the reason that illnesses like flu are seasonal is complex, and all those factors may not fully apply in this case.”
Cole said the hospital would “strongly encourage flu shots as we approach the fall,” since symptoms of COVID-19 and of influenza largely overlap, leading to possible confusion of one for the other.
Regarding immunity, Cole pointed to preliminary findings from a study out of Wuhan, China, where the virus started, that suggested that people with coronavirus antibodies may have been re-infected by the virus, but it is ultimately “too early” to know for sure how COVID-19 immunity does or does not work.