Oh good, things have loosened up to the point where I’m comfortable taking on COVID-19- related topics in this space. When we were at, let’s call it, peak social distancing I used this space to tell stories about, you know, stuff, things from outside the immediacy of our time, something to give a break.

It’s not like I haven’t been keeping up with COVID. One of my duties has been writing up the governor’s daily press conference on the thing – and as a government nerd it was a duty I took willingly. Which brings me to the following point.

Dr. Nate Smith, of the Arkansas Department of Health, has been one of the quiet heroes of state’s pandemic response. He was participated in the gov’s press conference every day, given the science-guy (the public health guy) read on what’s going on, and it’s been interesting.

Case in point: At last Saturday’s briefing he spoke to, in a quiet, almost aside way, the forthcoming new normal. Certainly you’re aware of this, the conversation people are having about what is life going to be like in the months, many months, maybe longer, to come.

(Aside here, because the virus, COVID-19, this is a real thing. If you’re getting your news from Facebook posts and some guy has some something and it’s all a fake, it’s not. It’s not a fake. Go read up on confirmation bias.)

He made the point that this evolving normal would be us maintaining social distance, and wearing masks when we can’t maintain distance.

You can go on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, same thing: Wear masks.

A conversation with a friend last week and I realized some misconceptions are out there. You wear a mask to protect yourself and – and this is important – you wear a mask to protect other people. It’s not a question of how you feel, it’s not a question of you choosing not to believe the science (and I mean c’mon) it’s a question of you – you – having the disease and not knowing it.

Smith, and this was a week or so ago, was talking about the tests the state did in Cummins prison. A COVID-19 outbreak there, coupled with a tightly packed community, meant everybody who had contact with everybody in the prison was tested, and quite a few inmates, it turned out, were infected.

Here’s the key take-away: In Cummins, about 60 percent of the people tested did not show any symptoms. (Read that again.)

You get it? You see where this is going?

That’s a 60 percent infection rate in a generally young, generally healthy population. And people were tested there, symptoms or no, because of the situation they were in. Most of us out here in the free world have not been tested. In fact, due to a paucity of supplies, only people with symptoms are being tested.

(There’s an undercurrent, leading to the official conversations about testing, which leads to the understanding that if it was up to the public health people, everybody would be tested, except for the fact there’s no enough supplies.)

Now, I’ll grant you, some estimates have it as low as 20 percent of the population have the disease and don’t know it. So, fine, two out of 10, or, fine, per Cummins six out of 10. I expect in the final measure this number slides around a lot. It turns out children are great transmitters of the disease, and likely not to have symptoms, so a higher percent there. Older people, when they get it they get sick, so lower percent of asymptomatic there.

But let’s say, best case, most optimistic, two out of 10 people have this thing and don’t know it.

You need to avoid situations where they breath on you.

Let’s say you’re one of the two out of 10.

You need to not breath on people.

And figure if you’re breathing, and within 6 feet of something, your breath is getting on it.

Stop doing that.

You need to wear a mask; we need to wear a mask. CDC tells us a cloth mask is fine, nothing too fancy.

If you don’t, the chances of this thing sparking off again as people get to going out more ramps up big and quickly.

You, you could be the thing that sparks off a second spike, you could be the person that sets the reopenings back.

Just put on a mask. It won’t kill you.

Alex Kienlen is editor of the Van Buren County Democrat.

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