Just wear the mask

Dr. Kyle Nakamura

I love skydiving.

It’s relevant, so stick with me for a minute. In addition to almost 400 regular airplane jumps I’ve also dropped from the skids of a helicopter, backflipped from a hot air balloon, and ridden a lube-covered slip ‘n slide out the tailgate of a Skyvan at 11,000’ (long story but 10/10, would highly recommend). I’ve had a few close calls over the years. I’ve watched my buddy being loaded onto a medevac chopper with his femur disassembled into three large pieces and several smaller ones. Eventually I know I’m going to lose a friend to some combination of negligence, foolishness, or bad luck. I certainly don’t look forward to that day, but I’ve accepted it as the proverbial ‘price of admission’ for participating in a sport that I’m passionate about.

I’m not trying to convince y’all that I’m some kind of daredevil. I’m really not. I’m one of the safety grouches at my home drop zone, forever hassling newer jumpers about gear checks and careful jump planning. The point is that I hold as a core value that grown-ass adults have a right to make their own decisions about risk and that each of us is responsible for deciding, for ourselves, what we are or aren’t comfortable with, so long as we’re not endangering anyone else.

That last part is important. It’s essential.

It’s why all this Covid19 business is less like skydiving and more like drunk driving. See, I’m fine with you pursuing a (probably short) career in wingsuit BASE, but I’m not OK with you pounding a fifth of Jack and then heading for the drive-thru. If you get on one of my jumps and act like an idiot, we’re going to have a problem, but if you wanna be a dumbass on a solo, that’s on you. Same with Covid. If you own a private island and want to spend your idle time licking sick bats, knock yourself out. If you live in society, though, that’s not going to fly.

Covid-19 has sickened over four million people in the US and killed more than 145,000.

Every single one of those people caught Covid from somebody else. Every. Single. One. This is not an infection we get from contaminated water, bad food, or mosquitos. We get it from one another. There is a continuous, unbroken chain of transmission from the first cross-species jump to every single person who has died from SARS-Cov2. It’s already killed more than 300 frontline healthcare workers and is on track to kill more as cases surge around the country.

That is why, despite being the kind of idiot who thinks taping glowsticks to his helmet and jumping out of a plane at night is super fun, I put on a goddamn cloth mask every time I leave my apartment. I’m in my early 40s, healthy, and have no risk factors for Covid-19. I recognize there is still a chance I could end up hospitalized or dead, but I know, statistically, that my odds of surviving Covid unscathed are pretty high. I’m not wearing the mask primarily for myself. I’m wearing it because I don’t know if the random stranger I pass on the street, at the supermarket, or pumping gas is at elevated risk of dying from Covid19 complications. I wear it because even if the person I infect with my carelessness turns out to be fine, they may go on to infect someone else who isn’t so lucky.

These restrictions suck.

They do. Quarantine sucks. Social distancing sucks. I get it. I’m as exhausted and tired of this shit as anyone else. Masks…OK, for real, guys, quite whining about the masks. They are a mild inconvenience at best. Nothing says “I’m an inconsolably selfish man-child” like a 220lb gym rat complaining about being suffocated by a glorified handkerchief. That’s not hypoxia, bro, it’s the crushing weight of your own stupidity.

Sorry, where was I? Right. Everything about this crisis is frustrating and frightening and life-disrupting and I completely understand the desire to “get back to normal.” The thing is, we can’t do that until we get Covid19 under control and the only way we’re going be able to achieve that is by banding together and staying consistent with all the mitigation strategies we have available (masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, etc.). Yes, I’m hopeful that we’ll have a vaccine sometime next year, but at the rate things are going a shitload of people are going to die between now and then if we don’t get ourselves sorted.

Even if you are young and low risk, especially if you are young and low risk, you need to be conscious of your choices. A pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic twenty-five-year-old has the energy to go out into the world and infect a lot more people than an eighty-year-old asthmatic wheeling around an oxygen tank. Do not be the drunk driver who staggers away unscathed from an accident that kills half-a-dozen other people and do not be the Covidiot who “feels fine” and goes out to start a chain of transmission that eventually buries an over-worked, under-paid ER nurse who is just trying to make it through the day and get home to his or her family.

Please, I’m begging you, take this shit seriously.

Also, just say “no” to low turns. Your femurs will thank you.

Dr. Kyle Nakamura holds a PhD in Systems Biology and Disease from the University of Southern California.