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Oxford Physician: Masks are a human kindness

Dr. Eric Dahl, a family physician in the LOU Community, has one message he’d like to share: at this point, wearing a mask or alternative face covering is a human kindness that will save lives. 

The COVID-19 crisis has firmly established itself in everyday life in Oxford, changing the way residents conduct business for the time being. However, Dahl said, there is proof that CDC-recommended non-medical masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

“I have seen cases of COVID-19 that I’m certain came about from someone not wearing their mask properly, who didn’t know they were carrying COVID-19 at the time,” Dahl said. “Eighteen of the patients I care for are known to have COVID-19. I expect that number to go up, probably double and maybe even triple, because of people not knowing they have the virus and spreading it.” 

The philosophy Dahl said he’d rallied behind, and encouraged others to do the same, is threefold: Stay in place, Keep your space and Cover your face. 

With 83 total reported cases in Lafayette County as of Thursday at 6 p.m., the need to follow those guidelines is stronger now more than ever, Dahl said.  

“If you have to be out, keep your space. The CDC has talked about six feet, and I think that is fairly safe if you’re talking with someone who doesn’t have fever,” Dahl said. “But all bets are off if someone actually has an active case of COVID. We’ve found in the intensive care units, that 13 feet downwind from a sickbed, people are still exposed to active viruses.  

“We’ve even seen from MIT studies, just looking at coughs and sneezes, you can propel droplets as far as 23 feet in a still room,” he said.  

The City of Oxford made masks a requirement in all essential businesses beginning at 8 a.m. on April 25. This decision has been met with some public outcry, but Dahl said the decision to wear a mask is not just rooted in its proven effectiveness – it’s also a social kindness. 

Mississippi is known as the Hospitality State, and the LOU Community has long been hailed for its part in maintaining that reputation. However, due to the pandemic, Dahl explained that the way Mississippians express hospitality for others must change. 

The motif he offered to justify the necessity of masks is that they’re the new seatbelt. Prior to seatbelt laws being enacted in Mississippi, for example, the state had a higher rate of epilepsy cases due to head trauma in automobile accidents. Once seatbelt laws were enacted, Dahl said, the rates went down.  

“It needs to be, depending on where you are politically and spiritually, a sign. Jesus said, ‘You’ll know who my followers are by your love for one another;’ I think He would tell followers of His, ‘You’re going to show love for one another by wearing a mask,’” Dahl said. “If you’re a social activist, this is going to be like your badge of social concern. If you’re a competitive athlete, this is going to be a point of pride. Depending on your perspective, we’ve got to get behind this.” 

Delving further into the psychological reasons why people do things, Dahl mentioned a study in which a scientist determined people do things for three reasons: they want to, ought to or have to. If the “wanters” and the “oughters” aren’t present, Dahl said, people will have to wear masks to survive. 

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, but there are ways to return to some semblance of normal life, Dahl said. 

“The longer we put up with the social concept of caring for one another by wearing masks, the better this will get, the less severe it will be and the lower the death rate will be for all,” he said.