We are living through one of the darkest times in American history. Thousands have died from the coronavirus already, and tens of thousands more will die in the coming weeks and months if the expert’s projections bear out. Given the numbers, it is easy to despair. The virus is in some ways the perfect enemy: faceless, amoral, inevitable. It sneaks inside of us and emerges like a Trojan horse.
Obviously, our healthcare workers, like soldiers on the walls of a castle under siege, are our first line of defense. But with hospitals overwhelmed and medical equipment in short supply, the front line cannot contain this virus, not when it is already inside of us. The best they alone can manage is to limit the fallout to one hundred thousand deaths if we are lucky.
In the Art of War, the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu said: “Do not engage an enemy more powerful than you. And if it is unavoidable and you do have to engage, then make sure you engage it on your terms, not on your enemy's terms.”
What would it mean to engage this virus on our own terms?
The only way to defeat an enemy that emerges from within the castle walls is to engage in total war. Every man, woman, child - every person in society must mobilize against the virus. One thing fifth columns count on is the weakness of the civilians within the citadel. Infiltrators hope to meet little if any resistance from laymen when they strike. The Spartans knew this, and so they trained every one of their citizens to be ready to fight if the need arose. We must now be like the Spartans.
What is America’s greatest strength? In a phrase: our work ethic. The scientists say we should be ready for 100,000-240,000 deaths. Let’s reject those numbers in an act of collective will. If our healthcare workers on the front lines need masks, let’s make masks. Already manufacturers are stepping up to fill this need, but there are still shortages across the country. Thousands of citizens in every state have already sewn masks by hand for themselves and their family members. If every American made one mask today, there would be 327 million new masks by tomorrow. If every American made 3 masks, there would be almost 1 billion masks available for use. Cloth masks are effective in preventing the transmission of this virus. They can be made out of almost any cloth you have: pillowcases, t-shirts, curtains, bedsheets, etc.
Would that be enough to bring down the death rate? Maybe. Hopefully. Social distancing, staying at home, washing our hands - these are all effective methods of prevention as well, and people who are following these guidelines might not need masks as urgently. But research clearly indicates that, while wearing a mask will not protect you from catching the disease, doing so will protect others from you in case you are already infected. Everyone should be wearing masks if they have one. If everyone made their own mask and started wearing it today, we could overcome the current shortage in a matter of days, or even hours.
Would people wear them? That’s another question. But people can’t reject a mask made out of someone's curtains if they don’t have the mask in their hands to reject in the first place. Let’s give our countrymen the chance to stay healthy by making and wearing our own masks.
Over the past two weeks, 10 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. That means that, theoretically, 10 million people are suddenly free to pitch into any collective effort we organize to bring the death rate down. If making masks is not the most effective response to the crisis at this moment, then maybe food deliveries to people in need, running errands for the elderly, watching children while others work, etc. could help. We have a workforce of around 10 million people ready to get to work. Let’s give ourselves jobs.
Recently, Providence St. Joseph Health in Washington launched the 100 Million Mask Challenge. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is currently accepting donations of masks from the community. Get involved and get to work. You can potentially save a life right now.