The personal freedoms debate over mask-wearing is similar to the seatbelt debate of the 1980s. South Dakota was one of the last states to adopt a seat belt law.

There’s no doubt that seat belts save lives. Now science tells us so do masks. In this edition of “COVID-19: Beyond the Numbers,” we look at the reason to wear a mask.

“Wear a dang mask,” Mayor Paul TenHaken said at the City of Sioux Falls news conference on Monday.

While some local politicians are now pleading with the public to wear masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, getting some people to do that may be next to impossible.

Earlier this year, doctors were not recommending the general public wear masks because there weren’t enough available for medical staff. It was also before they had data on mask effectiveness.

“Most of the studies that I see kind of say somewhere between 50 to 90 percent effective. If I told you I had a vaccine that just came on the market today that was 60 or 70 or even 90 percent effective at preventing COVID, you’d be beating down my door to get it.” Dr. David Basel of Avera Health said.

While the public can’t agree on mask effectiveness, neither can Sioux Falls’ own hospital systems.

Kennecke Aren’t masks 70 percent effective is that right?
Dr. Mike Wilde of Sanford Health: I’m not aware of that.
Kennecke: That’s the number I’ve heard from medical professionals.
Dr. Wilde: I haven’t heard that.
Kennecke: But wouldn’t you want to tell people to wear masks so you can keep your capacity low?
Dr. Wilde: If policymakers want to make policy that’s fine. We’re going to endorse CDC guidance, which we have and we certainly endorse masking as appropriate per CDC guidance.

This week, both Sanford and Avera did back the mayor’s plea to wear masks to stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Avera says it sees first hand that masks work to stop the spread.

“It’s almost unheard of for health care workers to get COVID from their patient or for one health care worker to give it to another. The only times we see that happen is in the break room when you take the mask off,” Dr. Basel said.

Doctors also warn that we shouldn’t be hoping for herd immunity from COVID-19 — that doing nothing to help stop the virus would be catastrophic.

“To get to herd immunity, which is probably up to near 60 percent, which is more than ten times the infections we see now. Our hospitals are not going to be able to handle 10 times the infections we’re seeing right now and and we’re certainly not going to be able to handle 10 times the deaths we’re seeing right now, so we can’t count on herd immunity being the answer.”

Dr. David Basel, Avera Health

Dr. Basel says he is especially concerned as it gets colder and even small gatherings move indoors.
He says while it may not be ideal, until we have a vaccine, people need to be wearing masks inside at any social gathering or think of alternative ways to socialize.