Dr. Mark Agness: Nevada City’s mayor is wrong
Dr. Mark Agness
I am a local physician and longtime resident of Nevada City. I have lived and practiced both family medicine and emergency medicine in the area since 1992.
I am reluctant to wade into the political arena and have resisted previous urges to write editorially. However, I had the opportunity to “attend” the virtual meeting of the Nevada City Council (Tuesday) night. It was discouraging.
Some of the misinformation and confusion surrounding the topic of masks was alarming. As some of you know I had the opportunity to serve in Italy as a physician caring for critically ill patients with Covid-19 in March and April. It was a sobering experience and one that needs to be shared so that the mistakes made by the Italians early in the pandemic aren’t made locally.
The Italians expressed a certain hubris early in the spread of the virus not dissimilar to that of Mayor Senum. It’s easy to be bold when the caseload is low. We can engage rhetorically and play legal games to support our personal ideologies. There is little risk in doing so. Yet as the caseload inevitably rises, it’s not those who use social media to tout their own virtues that suffer. It’s the most vulnerable in our community. The Italians were wrong and paid dearly for their mistakes. They paid with the lives of fellow citizens and the devastation of a vibrant economy. We will do the same.
I spent 12-hour days wearing an N-95 mask, day after day. When not in the ICU, I wore a surgical mask, as did my colleagues and the citizens of Cremona. I am here today, in no small part, because I wore PPE. I am alive today, in no small part, because others chose to do the same out of a sense of mutual respect and concern for my health. Masks do not cause hypoxia (low oxygen). I checked my oxygen saturation several times a day. It didn’t budge in or out of the mask. Masks do not cause carbon dioxide retention. I exercised in an N-95. They are uncomfortable and unpleasant but not dangerous.
I choose to wear a mask because the science behind wearing them is solid and they are safe. They prevent spread of aerosolized virus, limiting transmission of the disease. This has been proven in both Chinese and Italian studies. I choose to wear a mask for the same reason I choose to abide by the speed limit on the freeway. Not doing so doesn’t risk only my own life, but the lives of all those around me. I choose to wear a mask because I care for those in our community who aren’t as capable as I am of surviving this unpredictable virus — the elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill.
Mayor Senum is wrong to hide behind the First Amendment as a public official. Her influence is disproportionately large and responsibility to the community significant as an opinion leader. Many will, ignorantly, follow her lead and unintentionally lead to the propagation of the virus. Mayor Senum is wrong because this is not a legal exercise or ideologic issue. It is a public health issue that affects the most vulnerable in our community disproportionately. Wearing a mask, even if not personally protective, is a simple and compassionate act to limit the risk in the elderly and chronically ill.
Mayor Senum is wrong because she has crossed an ethical line, and led others to do so, that in effect tells me that her personal freedom is more important than my safety and health. She is wrong because she puts the very community she has pledged to serve at risk. This is the antithesis of public service; rather, it is using the public platform to grandstand and push personal agendas.
Mayor Senum called for medical experts to support her opinions regarding the “illegal” mask-wearing mandate from the governor and to combat the descent to fascism (her sentiments) implied by the mandate. In regards to Covid-19, I have more experience than any physician in the area. I read the peer-reviewed literature regarding this virus daily. I have treated many patients with the disease. I have watched the vulnerable die due to the disease. This isn’t a rhetorical exercise. Mayor Senum is ultimately responsible publicly for her willingness to risk the lives of those she represents to forward a conspiratorial ideology that cannot be supported.
I condemn her comments and leadership.
Mark Agness, MD, lives in Nevada City.
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