LOWVILLE — A person refused to respect the Lewis County Health System’s mask requirement on Wednesday when they went in for services, so they were not allowed to enter.
The incident prompted an impassioned statement from the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Gerald R. Cayer to the public — and to President Trump — at a news conference on Thursday.
“You probably sense a bit of strength and passion in my voice in today’s briefing,” Mr. Cayer said after urgently reminding the public what has been scientifically proven to slow the spread of the virus and minimize its impact.
He noted only a combination of washing hands, keeping six feet apart from people other than those that live together, wearing a mask and minimizing time spent outside of the home are effective in preventing the disease’s spread.
“The past four months have repeatedly shown the value of these steps. Countries, regions and counties that have taken them have either avoided outbreaks or beaten them back.”
Citing Italy, Spain, New Jersey, the New York City area and Lewis County as examples of the success of these measures, Mr. Cayer reminded the public that nationally, “a second wave that made the first wave look like it was small” is happening in a number of states.
One of the primary reasons Lewis County numbers have remained low, according to Mr. Cayer, was the early adoption of social distancing practices and enacting changes as new information has been provided by the state and federal experts on contagious diseases.
He said people in states including Florida, Texas and Arizona have notoriously been gathering in “restaurants, gyms, bars and churches” without wearing masks and if actions aren’t taken, there will be more and more people able to transmit the virus to others.
“Whether the U.S. succeeds during this next stage is not a matter of epidemiology or lab science, it’s a matter of political will and common sense. In New York state, it means following the governor’s executive order. The executive order is law.”
Federally, however, Mr. Cayer called on leaders, including President Trump, to follow the lessons learned and scientific findings about what works to set policy that will end the surge.
“I am just another voice in rural America reaching out to our federal elected officials to bring forward a national model where face masks are expected,” Mr. Cayer said, “Mr. President, we need you to step up on this one. We need to make this [holding up a mask] the law of the land. Anything less than that, we are not going to conquer this. The science is clear.”
A vaccine will be the only way to get beyond the pandemic, Mr. Cayer predicted, “and we’re not there yet” so masks will be required for the foreseeable future, especially at the hospital and clinics.
Mr. Cayer also demonstrated the proper way to wear a mask for it to be effective — covering both the nose and mouth — after showing what not to do like wearing the mask on the chin or under the nose.
“It is your right not to wear a mask. It is not your right to not wear a mask when you come to the Lewis County Health System’s buildings and properties. It is my responsibility to make sure that we protect each other if we’re going to have a viable health system,” Mr. Cayer said.
County Manager Ryan Piche added that a mask does not protect the person wearing it but rather anyone with whom they come into contact by limiting the fine mist of saliva that comes from the mouth and nose when talking or even breathing.
“Even if you’re not worried about getting the coronavirus — you might be young and strong — but you could be spewing coronavirus through the droplets in your mouth onto the surface or in the air in a grocery store and someone who is vulnerable could be walking right behind you,” Mr. Piche said.
Although some people complain about discomfort or itchiness from wearing a mask, Mr. Cayer said compared to what is experienced by people who get the disease and are symptomatic, mask-wearing issues are small.
“Attacking the virus means sometimes we’re going to be a little bit uncomfortable. This isn’t a free speech issue. This isn’t a rights issue. This is how we work together to deal with a global pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans.”
According to Johns Hopkins University’s online COVID-19 database, about 11.2 million people have been confirmed to have the virus worldwide. The U.S. continues to have more confirmed cases, 2.8 million, and more deaths, 129,657 of the 528,953 globally, than any other nation.