Pandemic Problems: A Small-Town Small-Business Owner and Individual Responsibility

Recently, I befriended the owner of a popular restaurant and new coffee shop in Huntsville, TX. As I was in scrubs he naturally had questions about COVID-19, flu shots and mask wearing.

I’m a generally politically cautious person – aggressive points of view are often not constructive – as a Pediatrician, I see it occasionally in general vaccine hesitancy. I also, don’t love confrontation. Here are some salient points that I think are important to understanding the disbelief in medicine currently overtaking a large part of the US.

– He knows nobody that first hand has had COVID-19. It becomes hard then, as he acknowledged, to have a concrete understanding of the gravity of our situation. So, of course I can see how it’s easy to believe the News when it is filled with disbelief and propaganda and your surrounding environment and people reinforce that “It’s not that bad.”

– “The democrats are saying this is a public health problem. Well then why don’t we ban smoking?” Smoking has individual group impact. We discussed the concept of “superspreading” and SARS 1, 20 years ago. He remembers it and how it never made it to the US like this. The concept of public health and exponential spread isn’t a thing in an isolated world.

– “So, I’m 51. I’ve gotten sick over the years, had my childhood vaccines, my immune system has built up all these defenses over the years.” Unfortunately, the immune system doesn’t always work as simply as that. I reframed vaccines and efficacy. The measles virus or the polio virus are the makes of the car, there aren’t that many models. Our vaccines helped to shut down the whole factory. The common cold, the flu, coronaviruses are all makes, but these makes are always making new models. With THESE diseases, we may not be able to totally stop the maker from production, but maybe we can make them lose some business. A recent study showed that while the influenza vaccine a couple of years ago wasn’t the most effective at reducing influenza infections, it DID heavily reduce hospitalizations. We are hoping for a COVID vaccine to reduce death and “serious” complications, but I personally from a mechanistic view doubt the concept of complete infection avoidance.

– Masks? He told me 3 months ago he went to home depot and masks were not mandated, he didn’t wear one and didn’t understand that other people did. Then they became mandated and he started. Now they’re still mandated but home depot is back to simply recommendations and interestingly, now he is mad when people don’t wear them. He finally realized, he is a business owner. It isn’t a political issue to wear a mask. If people get sick and he becomes a hot spot, his business will suffer. Oh, and he doesn’t want to kill anybody. He does ask if its bad to wear masks all the time. I tell him, No, pre-COVID many surgeons do cases for hours straight, even 16+ hrs, with masks on. Wearing a mask will not reduce your immunity or oxygen levels.

– “I’m healthy. No comorbidities.” Well, I felt similarly, until it hit 1st-person young connections of mine with no comorbidities and almost killed them. But, this goes back to point 1, my personal sphere is different than his.He acknowledged that masks shouldn’t be a political thing, and that he would rather be wrong about them not doing anything then stop wearing them and endanger others. But we agreed, at the end of the day in regards to returning to “normalcy” that there is a lack of Individual Responsibility. People ask my thoughts on COVID-19 and ultimately a large enough group of people in the US lack to the skills or care for Individual Responsibility. Don’t cough on me. Wash your hands. Don’t stand behind me touching me at the grocery store. Until that’s achieved, No, I do not think we will go back to normalcy, and also, normalcy will simply change. Please wear a mask and take science seriously. At the end of the day he gives me mild hope that there may be reasonable people that are just ill informed. It is easy to say people are stupid, but it is much harder to figure out why people think the way they do. We talked for an hour. He said his coffee shop will start to open earlier. “

Hopefully, our conversation also helped to open his perspective, but at the least, it opened mine.

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