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'It's a small ask' | St. Louis task force incident commander stresses importance of masks during pandemic fight

"I would argue that a mask actually enhances your freedoms because then we're not closing down businesses. We're not doing shelter in place orders..."

ST. LOUIS — With COVID-19 numbers seeing spikes around the country and even slight increases in the St. Louis area, St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force Incident Commander Dr. Alex Garza used part of his briefing on Friday to stress the importance of wearing a mask.

"No doubt everyone is seeing what's occurring around the country with record numbers of cases and hospitalizations. Now, we do not want that to happen here," Garza said. "We don't want to see the exponential growth of cases that we're seeing in other parts of the country. We don't want to have our healthcare systems overrun. We don't want people to needlessly die. And we don't want to have to shut down our communities. And in order to prevent these things from happening. We have to prevent spread in the community."

The St. Louis area saw an increase in the 7-day moving averages for both new admissions and hospitalizations on Friday. This is the highest average for new admissions since around June 4, Dr. Garza said.

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Dr. Garza said that although there has been a lot of debate about wearing masks, there is no doubt it's something that's needed right now.

"We ask society to do things to protect the community. And so things like wearing seat belts, prohibiting smoking in restaurants, having our children vaccinated before they go to school, and having health care workers vaccinated," Garza said. "And the reason why we do these things is because there's clear evidence that these are really low barrier things that we can do to prevent disease and even death in the community. And it is a pretty small ask, I think, in order to protect the community."

Dr. Garza also cited some statistics about the effectiveness of mask wearing.

"Now, a lot of studies have shown the benefits of mask wearing. One in particular, shows that if we get a significant number of the population, upwards of 80, 90 percent of people wearing masks consistently, that we can keep transmission low," Dr. Garza said. "By that, I mean below one. So you've heard me talk about the are not. If we can wear a mask consistently, we can keep that number below one."

There has been push back on wearing masks from those citing "personal freedoms", and Dr. Garza had something to say on that matter as well.

"I've heard a lot about personal freedoms, things like that. So in some ways, though, I would argue that a mask actually enhances your freedoms because then we're not closing down businesses. We're not doing shelter in place orders because we've prevented transmission. And so it actually enhances your freedoms by allowing you to do more things and to keep our communities open," Dr. Garza said. "And again, it's a small ask for us, for the community to protect the community. And if none of this really convinces you, then there's a mortality argument that can be made. Some researchers from the University of Washington show that if, you know, 95 33,000 deaths across the United States by October. That's a huge number of lives and that could potentially be one of your loved ones."

Along with masks, Dr. Garza continued to reiterate the importance of social distancing and hand washing to help fight the spread of the pandemic.

You can watch the task force's entire Friday briefing by clicking here.

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