Wearing Masks Should be Mandatory, Says Infectious Disease Expert

Jun 19, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to spread in Florida—with a record number of Floridians diagnosed with the virus on Friday. Florida’s health department announced more than 3,800 cases. While more people are getting tested, the percentage of people testing positive is going up — above 10 percent for two out of the past three days.

This week, the state said the median age of people getting the virus has dropped from 65 years old to 37 years old. Statewide, hospital beds are about 75 percent full and hospital visits for flu-like and COVID-like symptoms are also climbing.

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Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist and a pandemic expert from Florida International University, joined hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross on The Florida Roundup.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:

MELISSA ROSS: Governor DeSantis has said there will be no more lockdowns of Florida, that the economy simply has to reopen. You've stated in recent days, though, that the governor's push to reopen could backfire. How concerned are you about this, given the sharp rise in COVID cases we're seeing this week across the state? 

DR. AILEEN MARTY: I'm very concerned, not because of whether we lock down or not lock down. That's not the key. The key is how do we behave? Do we apply the public health safety concepts, and what data has shown us works, or do we not? Do we ignore them and cavalierly allow the virus to go from person to person? We, in theory, we can have an open economy as long as we follow the public health guidelines, as long as we follow new normals. If we don't, then we may again see rates so high and so dangerous that we have to go into a lockdown. And I would love for us to avoid that. 

ROSS: We are seeing positive test rates rise above 10 percent in some Florida counties. That is a key marker that has prompted lockdowns in the past. As Tom pointed out a minute ago, mayors around the state now are starting to mandate that people wear masks when they're out in public. But this is a patchwork affair in Florida. A lot of this is dependent on the goodwill of all of us to do the right thing. There isn't a statewide mandate, for example, to wear masks and to take those kinds of measures to slow the spread of the virus. Do you think there should be? 

There absolutely should be, and it's now been proven. Study after study shows that use of masks decreases transmission of this monster virus. And we should be wearing masks while this pandemic is, while this virus is in our community. And we should consider it the same as stopping at a stop sign. We stop at a stop sign, protects us and protects others, and it's the rule. And that's what it should be — the rule for now, because it's the right thing to do.  

ROSS: What are your thoughts about the way this procedure to limit the spread of the virus has become politicized? 

The virus doesn't care about our politics. The virus is a piece of genetic information that wants to go from one host to the next, and it's going to take that opportunity. And any group, whatever their beliefs, systems, politics, ideologies are, again, the virus doesn't care. If your group is going to make it easier for the virus to get from one host to another, it's going to do it. And so, it's increasing the risk to people of that mindset. 

HUDSON: Let's talk a little bit about the data that the Department of Health in Florida releases every day in the data that the governor points to. The governor this week has pointed to the increase in the number of positive cases because of increased testing. Is that an accurate analysis? 

If you just look at the raw numbers by themselves and that were your only indicator, and you were doing more testing, which we are, then that would be an adequate answer. 

But we're looking at the percent positive going up, and we have been testing high-risk populations for a long time now. We've been testing jails. We've been testing nursing homes. We've been testing that. That's not new. So, what's going on is a true increase. 

Moreover, we're seeing more cases that are presenting to hospitals, more cases that are being hospitalized, and our ICU beds are again acquiring more and more cases of COVID-19 patients. That's not an artifact of testing.

HUDSON: One the state dashboard, Dr. Marty, when one looks at the testing data, the number that the state puts in front of people to look at is today is 5.6 or 5.8 percent of positive tests.  That's a number that includes all tests given in Florida since day one. Is that an accurate way to reflect the percent positive testing in Florida? 

It doesn't reflect what's happening today. So, it clearly provides a misleading picture of the reality of our current situation. We have to test what's happening today, and we have to show the data accurately so that people can make the right decisions — the best way of helping themselves.