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A response to Jonathan Riddle

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I’d like to credit Mr. Jonathan Riddle, our city’s Republican candidate for Mayor, for his op-ed the other day. It takes a level of guts to take a public stand on the issue of masking; one that has for any number of unfortunate reasons, become a political football. A football that is also a bumper sticker for how someone stands on a warehouse of other, entirely unrelated issues. I think I can speak for many that this is no way to exist in a society, particularly regarding such a monumental issue so dependent on the unified participation of its citizens.

I’ll start by saying that, while I don’t know Mr. Riddle, I’ll presume he doesn’t like that notion either, and he offers some valid points I’d like to reflect on below. But, like much of our information dissemination these days, his assessment features some incomplete truths that run awry, and sometimes directly counter to, his conclusions. In reflecting on these, I’d like to also do my best in citing responsible sources that are in addition to my own circle of friends that include nurses, doctors, and experts in epidemiology.

 

Liberties and Lockdowns

Mr. Riddle references “lockdowns” quite a bit in his piece, and frankly, that’s just low-hanging bulletin board material for a particular minority of our community. It borders on a cheap vocabulary dessert for the misinformed.

Point blank: nothing that the United States has instituted in the last 17 months, at either a state or national level, qualifies as a “lockdown.” By any definition, nothing like the well-publicized events in China, Germany, or in some parts of Australia currently, where people are asked to not leave their homes for extended periods of time, enter stores, or traverse into another town, occurred (or will occur) here.

If Mr. Riddle is equating a “lockdown” with “staying home for 14 days,” as he writes, after testing positive for COVID, then he is catering directly to a purely science-denying crowd, and I won’t respond to that. I expect most people here believe the basic science of staying away from other people when sick, at least until they are reliably non-contagious. That, to me, is hardly counter to our nation’s ideals of liberty.

 

 

The Science of Masks

Mr. Riddle is correct on this point: there is no better mask than N95 (and above) for both preventing the spread and inhalation of viral particles. This is because N95s are a type of respirator (Mayo Clinic 8/4/21). Mr. Riddle oversimplifies their operation, but right in their value. That said, he is wrong in his assessment that “anything less than a one-time use properly fitted N95 mask provides little to no protection.” There are a number of reasons why.

Surgical masks (like those used in sterile medical environments) and cloth masks are not all created equal. Cloth ones in particular. Poorly fitting, single layered, or improper material can all lead to lapses in effectiveness. Generally speaking, the most effective cloth ones are those that are “multi-layered and made of tightly woven fabric like cotton” (Mayo Clinic 8/4/21). Surgical masks are made to a more exacting standard, and thus more reliable in their use. Mr. Riddle’s argument is that viral particles can easily pass through anything other than N95s, and this is largely true, but, he misses a critical point:

Cloth masks do an excellent job at blocking respiratory droplets, which CARRY viral particles. Multiple, cross-woven layers block more and more droplets, which thus transmits less and less viral particles.

“One recent laboratory experiment used a laser-light-scattering methodology to visualize respiratory droplets generated while subjects repeated the phrase ‘stay healthy.’ While each utterance generated hundreds of droplets ranging in size from 20 to 500 micrometers, the researchers showed that covering the speaker’s mouth with a damp washcloth blocked nearly all of them.” (M.I.T. 7/7/20)

 

Further evidence is easy to find, including a Mayo Clinic study released July 2021:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025619621004018?dgcid=author

Again, the key is proper use. But, even less proper use can help.

Excuse me while I digress, but I sort of liken it to responsible gun control arguments. Sure, taking high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic guns that fire rounds at incredibly high rates away from average citizens won’t end murder. But it can absolutely reduce the number of people killed in mass incidents, and give more time and opportunities for those on site or law enforcement to respond, fight back, or enact other countermeasures.

When it comes to surgical or cloth masks, we are not preventing viral particles from being released entirely, but limiting the amount and rate: particularly in cases of sneezing and loud talking, thus influencing spread. That spread, limited in distance and width now, will affect less people. It’s not that hard.

Consider this nugget regarding flu’s dropoff this past year:

“Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza cases reported to the World Health Organization from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have dropped to minute levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from spreading — notably mask wearing and social distancing — also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and they are less effective at jumping from person to person.

As Scientific American reported in November 2020, the drop-off in flu numbers following COVID’s arrival was swift and global. Since then, cases have stayed remarkably low. “There’s just no flu circulating,” says Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades. The U.S. saw about 700 deaths from influenza during the 2020–2021 season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were approximately 22,000 U.S. deaths in the prior season and 34,000 deaths two seasons ago.” (Scientific American, 4/29/21)

 

In the end, the flu is not exactly the same as this or any other coronavirus, but the point remains. Also, masks do a much better job at protecting the wearer from infecting others, than they do protecting oneself. Mr. Riddle misses that point, too, while he cites language on a box of undetermined masks, writing, “This product… will not provide protection against COVID-19 or any other viruses.” That’s precisely the point. Regular mask use is almost entirely about those around us. That’s how they work, and it’s why community use is so important.

Science aside, is it really that hard to wear a mask? Particularly while our children remain unvaccinated? We can nitpick the mask effectiveness argument until we’re blue in the face, and while there is some mixed (and limited) data on their effectiveness in schools among younger kids (most likely due to potential improper use of our youngest students), there is absolutely no reason we shouldn’t give them a shot due to the above information. Mr. Riddle’s intent or not, if a candidate caters to a crowd that doesn’t recognize doing all that it can to protect our most vulnerable, their lower risk aside, then they’ve already lost me.

 

 

Vaccines

The most important area that Mr. Riddle and I very much agree on is that this virus is here to stay in some form, and the medical response will be, just as it is now: vaccinations. There is no doubt that the medical community will continue to study and adapt its prevention and treatments of this virus and its many forms for years, perhaps a generation, to come. The over 200-year history of vaccination will continue, and be the universal solution to diverting an out-of-control pandemic into a manageable, mundane coronavirus.

While Mr. Riddle seems to support vaccination, he cherry picks very limited data, from a yet to be peer reviewed (incredibly surprising considering the date of submission) Cleveland Clinic study to equate vaccination with prior infection. Mr. Riddle equating prior infection to vaccination is either misinformed, vaguely premature, or most likely, wrong according to the very study he miscites through its own reference point:

“… the vaccine may still provide some benefit in previously infected persons. A prior large observational study concluded that immunity from natural infection cannot be relied on to provide adequate protection” (Cleveland Clinic 6/2021)

 

 

Other Falsehoods

Mr. Riddle’s piece asked a series of loaded questions, quoted below, with some quick hottakes:

“What’s next? More…

  • “Mandates and lockdowns?”

As noted above, lockdowns, by definition, didn’t occur here or anywhere in the U.S.

 

  • “Vaccine Passports?”

As defined recently, these have nothing to do with the Mayor or city offices.

 

  • “Shutting down Norwalk City Hall for another year?”

The business of City Hall, while limited in-person, never shut down.

 

  • “Shutting down schools again?”

Schools were never shut down: in fact, while the process was clearly imperfect and at times haphazard, Connecticut received far more days in school than its neighbors, and Norwalk provided more learning opportunities than its richer surrounding towns. I’d venture the focus is and will remain in-person learning here on out, as it should.

 

 

Conclusion

In the end, I think our Republican candidate gave it an effort, but one that felt incredibly incomplete. Generally speaking, it was a letdown. I am someone open-minded politically, and as I’ve noted before, while I’m, in most respects, a Democrat, I am most moved by good ideas. And I’m very open to receiving those from any party. That said, the ideas Mr. Riddle presented, frankly, are just not all that good. Worst yet, he framed them in some of the same Diet-MAGA terms that will continue to doom the local Republican party in this city.

I’d like to see a robust back and forth between parties and ideas. I’d like to see candidates aim to capture the heart of its potential constituents, all the while framing their opinions with empathy and data. But, if it’s more of the same old dog-whistle lingo interspersed with misinterpreted information and haphazardly communicated talking points, you can count me out.

 

Justin Matley

 

19 comments

Bryan Meek August 14, 2021 at 8:51 am

So why aren’t you running for Mayor? Instead you are running to be part of the current Mayor’s rubber stamp council. You know the Mayor who wasn’t wearing a mask inside the mall the other day.

David August 14, 2021 at 9:52 am

Thank you for taking the time to write this. Quite frankly, it didn’t deserve such a detailed response, but in doing so you have laid bare the very lack of any critical thinking in the Republican candidate for mayor. Lacking that basic skill disqualifies him to run the city in my opinion.

You have spoken for the majority of people who are sick and tired of the dissociated rantings of the anti-vax and MAGA crowd. They will surely be set alight at your response and will fire ‘what about’s…’ our way. Cling to the original message and the broad strokes, invoke the science they spend so long discrediting. The majority will move forward and do the responsible thing to keep our community safe and get past this as best we can.

Thanks again.

Steve August 14, 2021 at 10:50 am

Nice Job Justin. Sounds like Riddle wants to run for national office instead of Norwalk. Norwalk was the only school system in Fairfield County where K-5 students met in person every day except for brief periods next to week long vacations. I would love to have a viable second party in the City but sadly the Republican Party has become a cult and running on a new Independent line to avoid the label is simply putting a different lipstick on the pig. One party rule is a recipe for lapses in judgment but from the days of “Government get your hands off my Medicare” to the “Stop the Steal”, as William Kristol, David Frum, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Mitt Romney and a host of other conservatives maintain, the party needs to reassess and find it’s moral compass. Where are you Larry Cafero? Fred W., where do you stand?

Finally August 14, 2021 at 3:24 pm

This is at last a piece that makes sense. Yes we have a right to disagree. We should also have the dignity to do so with facts and not pander to peddling disinformation to gain brownie points. Thank you for the article Justin!

Patrick Cooper August 14, 2021 at 6:07 pm

@Steve. You are sadly, typically mistaken. Again. The “Independent” party line is just that – “capable of thinking or acting for oneself”. In fact, we only have one requirement: Norwalk before political party. That is it, and I wonder why you would condem that? Our support & representation is utterly inclusive – across the entire “affiliation” spectrum – including D’s. Where do your place your loyalties? How is your bread buttered? Smear what you fear? We represent Norwalk: not Hartford, Political Parties, or $pecial interests. Is that so wrong?

ConcernedToo August 15, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Notice how scatterbrained some of the defenders of the anti mask republican candidate are in their defenses. The problem is how Rilling involves himself in lawsuits. No it’s that he wasn’t wearing a mask at the mall. It’s because they have to change the subject. The obvious truth is their candidate’s position on masking (that it doesn’t help at all) is untenable, so they have to talk about other unrelated things.

Republicans need to develop their own message, not just reflexively attack Rilling.

Jason Milligan August 16, 2021 at 6:38 am

This is a well written, well reasoned article, but what is the conclusion?

Masks work?

Who should wear them?

When? / when stop?

Where?

Who should decide?

For publicly owned places in Norwalk it should be the common council with public input.

At my office, store, bar, house, bedroom, car, boat it should be my decision!

In a free country we are allowed to ride motorcycles, smoke cigarettes, drink soda, sky dive… surely we can decide when to where a mask in private settings.

We are also free to choose where to go and where to shop based on company policies about masks. Successful businesses cater to their customers. The don’t need mandates.

We are all comfortable with different levels of risk. Thankfully in a free country we are allowed to choose where we go, what we eat, and how we live.

milbank August 16, 2021 at 7:38 am

“Our support & representation is utterly inclusive – across the entire “affiliation” spectrum – including D’s.”

Even including “D’s”? Well, that’s awfully big of you “R’s.”

The fact is, you “R’s” need those “D’s” on your ticket in order to have any sort of chance of getting any of you “R’s” elected.

“Where do your place your loyalties? How is your bread buttered? Smear what you fear?”

Classy argument there Patrick.

“We represent Norwalk: not Hartford, Political Parties, or $pecial interests. Is that so wrong?”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that tired cliché by challengers as the reason to vote for them against the of incumbents… “They’re corrupt! We aren’t! We represent you, they don’t! We like Apple pie.! Is that so wrong?”

Wow. Original. Like I said, if I had a nickel. . . .

JustaTaxpayer August 16, 2021 at 2:12 pm

The media’s focus seems to be on white conservatives regarding vaccinations. The stats are clear, in the 18-44 age range, blacks have especially low vaccination rates. It’s around 30 points lower than whites. . This isn’t racist, it’s a fact.

milbank August 16, 2021 at 7:50 pm

@Jason Milligan, you are not free to smoke in an office, store or bar. Why? Because your smoke threatens my health as well as others. You do not have the right to impinge on my health and well being. Unfortunately, because you don’t understand that, I need law enforcement to protect my freedom from you and others like you. When you are in the privacy of your own home, bedroom, car, boat or in any other space that is solely yours, you may do whatever you want.

I guess I should be amazed you have to have this explained to you being that you are a landlord then again, considering the daily soap opera that is your dealings as a property owner with the city of Norwalk lo these many years…
maybe I shouldn’t be.

Jason Milligan August 16, 2021 at 11:25 pm

Milbank,

Did you really think I suggested smoking in offices should allowed? Did I also suggests Riding motorcycles and skydiving in offices?

When should you take the mask off? When it’s “safe”?

Who decides the threshold?

If you are comfortable having one person make unilateral decisions you live in the wrong country.

The council should be the ones making these rules and decisions with public involvement. There should be discussion and justification and some metrics.

This mandate came down because one person thought we needed it. Plenty of people obviously agree, but when should the mandate be lifted?

When the mayor feels safe?

Do you not see the issue with giving one person this power?

milbank August 17, 2021 at 11:18 am

“The media’s focus seems to be on white conservatives regarding vaccinations. The stats are clear, in the 18-44 age range, blacks have especially low vaccination rates. It’s around 30 points lower than whites. . This isn’t racist, it’s a fact.”

Your Fox “News” talking point is a misleading “fact,” @JustaTaxpayer.
Black vaccination rates are lower than whites because so many whites are Democrats!
More White Republicans aren’t vaccinated than blacks.

I’m personally fine with any of them not getting vaccinated if they kept strictly to themselves but, they don’t which exposes innocent children to a deadly disease. They also stress the hospital and healthcare system and the heroic people who work in those fields.

“Of course, that Black Americans are more hesitant about being vaccinated than White Democrats in particular doesn’t really help the argument that Black hesitation rates should be compared unfavorably with Republicans. It’s also disingenuous to compare Black and White vaccination rates overall, since White rates are actually higher in part because so many White people are Democrats! Those making this comparison are essentially using high vaccination support among White Democrats as a way to disparage lower rates among Black people.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/08/04/what-about-black-people-defense-republican-vaccine-hesitancy/

John O'Neill August 17, 2021 at 4:54 pm

@MilBank — At first You lost me after “The”, but I reread your comments twice. While I completely disagree with your post, I respect your opinion.

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