Faith over fear

An eight-year-old boy came into my office the other day.  He sat on the examination table while his father waited in an adjacent chair.  The boy had a mask on — you know the type, homemade with a cute design on the front.  His father had no mask.

The boy had been brought to my office to have his injured ankle evaluated, twisted while playing basketball with his friends in the park.  "You can take your mask off if you would like," I told the boy.  He glanced over at his unmasked father.  "It's okay, son, you can take it off," said the boy's father.  The boy looked back at me and then at his father again.  "No, it's okay, I'll just leave it on...I'm used to it," he replied.

Forget for a moment that an eight-year-old kid has little risk from COVID-19.  His survivability from COVID, if he were to contract it, is approximately 99.998% — a higher survival rate than from seasonal influenza.  Never mind that there is little evidence that he could be an asymptomatic spreader of the virus.  Disregard for the time being that his dad had already had COVID and recovered.

Consider just this: adults across this country have caused a lot of unnecessary harm to their children during the pandemic.  We have taught them to be afraid; we have indicated that they should not question authority; we have shown them how to be obedient to the government.  We have suggested to them that any sacrifice in the name of community health is acceptable.  We have even modeled a path forward — the easiest way to get along is to go along, to shut up and obey.

Is this why we are now seeing an unprecedented level of mental illness in our children?  Is this the cause of the escalation of substance abuse and the teenage suicide rate?  We have also seen an increase in child abuse and domestic violence all in the name of health, über alles.  As my friend Mark McDonald, M.D., a child psychiatrist, says, forcing a child to wear a mask is a form of child abuse.

We have all witnessed much of the current insanity: a lone jogger with a mask on, a solo driver with a face covering, the dog-walker covered up and the children in school forced to don a mask.  Recently I saw a group of little kids in a schoolyard walking socially distanced, wearing masks, heads bowed. It was like a dystopian procession of tiny prisoners. No more laughing, smiling, holding hands, hugging. A very sad sight indeed. The consequences of this are not simply inconveniences. The long-lasting effects of creating fear in our children and our society will last for years to come. It will be a post traumatic psychosis of sorts.

The excessive caution is not just a matter of "better safe than sorry," as some would have it. It is both wrong and abusive to force masks on our children and our communities in the name of good intentions. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have declared nine hundred years ago, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." We should not trample the rights and freedoms of the many for the very limited possibility of saving a single life as a result.

Think for a moment about the lives lost due to suicide and drug abuse.  What about the devastation to families due to economic ruin and unemployment?  What about the pain of the elderly not being allowed to touch a loved one?  Are these outcomes really equal to preventing one more COVID patient?  (See the essay "She Died Alone" in my book COVID-19 A Physician's Take on the Exaggerated Fear of the Coronavirus.)

I am not one to talk about my religious beliefs, but if there were ever a time that America needs a spiritual revival, it would be now.  We will not be rescued from our current malaise by any politician or statesman.  No magic bullet is coming along to put everything back to the way it was.  Our only path forward now, it seems to me, is through faith over fear and a return to our Jewish and Christian roots — roots that brought us our Declaration of Independence proclaiming clearly that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights — rights that come not from the government.

Image: Candace McDaniel.