I started wearing my N95 mask on airplanes in January of 2020. I was watching the news daily and reading about the fast spread of COVID-19 in China and in other countries. Several scientists had predicted that COVID-19 was not going away and that millions of people would die worldwide. It was clear to me in January of 2020 that COVID-19 would spread rapidly in the United States and that we needed to quickly prepare.
I started stocking up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, masks, gloves, bleach, wipes, isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, food, water, and whatever I could get. At that time, I had even began preparing my staff and working with them to make sure that we had supplies at work. Early preppers shared stories on what to do. I do not think any thought that we would run out of toilet paper.
In February 2020, I attended my uncle’s funeral and the MidSouth Black Expo, both of which had crowds of people. At the time, the rates were still low in the South. In fact, there were no known cases in Arkansas. I flew to a meeting in New Orleans on March 10th, with great hesitancy. My gut told me not to go. I wore my N95 mask on the plane, and luckily the woman sitting next to me on the plane also had on her mask. We wiped down our seats and others looked at us as if we were crazy.
When I arrived in New Orleans, I learned that Arkansas had identified a possible case of COVID-19. On March 11, Governor Asa Hutchinson declared a public health emergency, formally announcing the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Arkansas. I flew back to Little Rock two days before the meeting ended because I was eager to get out of New Orleans.
Now, over a year later, I continue to wear my mask in public places even though I have been vaccinated. When health officials were telling people in February and March of 2020 that masks did not protect the general public from the coronavirus, I was shocked. I was shocked that people who understood the spread of infectious disease would tell the public that masks would protect health care workers but not the public. REALLY???? I was also shocked when health officials declared in May of 2021 that vaccinated individuals could take off their mask. At the time, vaccination rates in the U.S. were low and long-term of the effects of the vaccine on variants was still evolving.
I was NOT shocked when COVID-19 rates quickly increase again, hospitalization and ventilation rates increased, and more adults and children began dying. What will it take for us to stop making these mistakes?
I made an informed decision and received a COVID-19 vaccine. I will also continue to wear my mask because masks work and protect adults and children from unnecessary senseless deaths.
Pebbles Fagan, Ph.D., MPH