This guest column, written by TTUHSC El Paso President Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A., was published in El Paso Inc. on July 20, 2020.
Images of people wearing face masks are now commonplace – face coverings have become part of our daily routine and a symbol of how the COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly changed our lives since the first case was reported in El Paso in March.
Our city is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. In the past few weeks, El Paso’s cumulative cases have more than doubled, to more than 10,800. Last week, we hit a record-high of new cases reported in one day: 411. Texas has now seen more than 290,000 cases and, sadly, more than 3,500 fatalities. And though we’ve learned more about treating COVID-19 over the past few months, we’re left asking ourselves what we can do to make the situation better.
The answer is simple: Wear a mask.
Wearing masks can seem odd for generations of Americans who’ve never experienced a public-health crisis like this. And, yes, they can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially as we endure a season of triple-digit heat. But mask-wearing has a multitude of benefits, and it creates a positive domino effect.
Masks, when worn properly, help to reduce the transmission and spread of COVID-19, meaning fewer patients in overwhelmed hospitals and less risk of infecting health care professionals on the front lines where they’re desperately needed.
At this point, with no vaccine or preventative treatment for COVID-19, the best measure of prevention requires no medication at all. COVID-19’s main mode of transmission is through the spread of respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes or talks. By wearing a mask, we create a droplet barrier and minimize the risk of spread.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, groups vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19 include our elderly population and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or serious heart or lung conditions – all of which directly impact residents in our border community. In El Paso County, an estimated 12.5% of individuals are over the age of 65, 31% have high blood pressure, 14% of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, and more than 30% of adults are obese, according to the most recent data.
So wearing face masks becomes both about protecting ourselves and caring for others, even those we don’t know.
Our goal at TTUHSC El Paso is to educate the next generation of health care professionals who are committed to care and to do so with great compassion. The compassion part of this goal is important. It means that we dedicate our focus to the needs of others and their unique story.
As we continue our fight against the spread of the coronavirus in the borderland, I encourage our community to join us in practicing compassion for others. By wearing a mask, you’re doing your part to change the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Richard A. Lange is president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and dean of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.