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Letters to the editor reflect the opinion of the writer, not the Rapp News. Comment below or by writing a letter to the editor: editor@rappnews.com.

It is no longer appropriate to discuss the efficacy of masks in preventing COVID-19 infections. Numerous scientists have asked this question, and there is literature confirming the usefulness of masks. 

We may argue about what kind of mask is most effective, whether exhale valves are OK, or what material to use. We cannot argue about masks themselves. Areas in this country where masks have been abandoned too soon have seen a spike in case rates and deaths. Masks are cheap, and the inconvenience of wearing them is trivial. Life is irreplaceable. 

In the Spanish flu pandemic of 1928, no one knew what a virus was, but officials knew enough to recommend social distancing and mask use to prevent spread of that disease. Masks alone will not be enough now. We also need social distancing as well as tracking and testing. 

The third part of this prescription, tracking and testing, was responsible for the elimination of smallpox from the world in 1980. Prior to 1980, we had relied on mass vaccinations to eliminate this disease. However, there were not enough resources to do this effectively, and the eradication effort switched to identification of individual cases as a strategy. The last case of smallpox was a three year old girl in Bangladesh. Armed guards were placed around her house, and everyone within a 1.5 mile radius was vaccinated. 

A vaccine for COVID-19 seems likely by 2021 or 2022. Until then, we will have to rely on masks, social distancing, and testing to control this virus. We are fortunate in Virginia to have competent leaders to help us, and we must follow their advice.

Dr. Robert Burney, MD



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