Two weeks ago during a Senate hearing on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky once again sparred over the efficacy of COVID-19 restrictions. In particular, the use of masks that the Centers for Disease Control recommends reduces the spread of the virus. Sen. Paul called mask-wearing “theater,” and Dr. Fauci responded with visible anger that drew cheers from the medical community. This was not the first time Senator Paul challenged Dr. Fauci on the value of wearing masks. Last September Paul criticized Fauci and the value of CDC guidance on social distancing, claiming that New York’s then one percent positivity rate was the result of herd immunity, not lockdowns.
Senator Paul’s attacks on the CDC – and science in general – are far too numerous to list here. The Senate’s most outspoken libertarian, the Kentucky ophthalmologist is suspicious of any information which comes from the government-sponsored health organization. Paul’s anti-government stance precedes his time in the senate. For example, the history of the doctor’s medical qualifications shows that he has not ever felt bound to a traditional medical education. Paul holds no bachelor’s degree. He attended Baylor University as an undergraduate but left a few courses shy of a degree when he was accepted to Duke Medical School who at the time did not require undergraduate completion.
Over the years some in the media have speculated that Paul is not actually a board-certified ophthalmologist. This is not entirely true. He was originally certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, but then in 1997, Paul joined a group of other young Ophthalmologists who formed the National Ophthalmology Board in protest of a rule change made by the American Board of Ophthalmology they believed to be unfair. The National Ophthalmology board went out of business in 2011.
I’m not arguing that Paul is not a real or qualified doctor. I’m confident he is. But today Paul is a sitting U.S. Senator and is not just a simple doctor airing his medical concerns. He is now, in fact, a representative of the government itself.
To a certain degree, I understand Senator Paul’s trepidation. It is only natural to be skeptical, and trust out-of-hand scientific recommendations from government scientists. In this, he is no different than many others out there who are suspicious of the federal government at every turn.
But Paul also believes in philanthropy and willing to donate to others in need of your time and talents. Over his career, he’s done hundreds of pro bono eye surgeries for people in need. So, while he is currently branding mask-wearing as “political theater,” I have faith that he believes in serving beyond one’s self for the greater good.
In that case, might I suggest that he looks at how another faith-based, humanitarian, non-governmental medical organization is handling CDC guidance with regard to mask-wearing: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital located in Memphis, Tennessee.
St. Jude has a history like almost no other hospital in the world. The hospital was founded in 1957, by entertainer Danny Thomas. Thomas, the son of Lebanese immigrants formed the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities to raise money to build a hospital for children suffering from catastrophic illnesses.
Their core ethos was that no child is denied service or ever receives a bill. To raise money to build the hospital Thomas not only enlisted the help of his friends in the entertainment industry – like Frank Sinatra and Memphis’s own Elvis Presley – he also enlisted the help of other successful Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, so they, like him, could give back to a country that had given them so much.
For Danny Thomas St. Jude was not just about giving back to the country he loved. By starting the hospital he was fulfilling a promise to St. Jude and God. At the time of the birth of his youngest daughter, Marlo, Thomas was out of work and down on his luck. So, he walked into a Detroit church where he put almost half of the 15 dollars he had left to his name in the donation box and prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of the hopeless cause. “Show me my way in life and I’ll build a shrine in your name,” he said.
Thomas became a famous entertainer, and the shrine is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – an institution in which eighty percent of its operating budget comes from private donations. Many of which are small-dollar monthly commitments coming in from all over the country, both Red and Blue states. Children who are sick with cancer transcend political affiliation, and more importantly, people in this country are good-hearted and willing to give some of the little they have to save the life of a child who they do not know.
St. Jude is a place that values science. It is a place that implements practices and procedures based on data from the most recent peer-reviewed medical studies. Hospital officials and staff at St. Jude know that overtime research changes that data, which changes the science, which changes hospital practices.
Presently, if your child is a patient at St. Jude, they will be tested for COVID-19 once or twice a week. The hospital currently has a one parent per patient policy so if you are there with your child you will be tested weekly. If you work at the hospital, you could be tested multiple times a week.
There is one patient entrance at St. Jude. There you give your child’s medical record number and answer a series of questions for hospital officials. They will then give you and your child a mask which you are expected to keep on during your stay on campus in compliance with CDC recommendations. All staff wear masks and goggles.
How do I know so much about one of the premier pediatric cancer hospitals in the world? I am the father of an eleven-year-old, special needs daughter, Hallie who recently completed treatment for her third brain tumor recurrence in a decade. Hallie has spent countless hours in that hospital.
As is the case with many undergoing cancer treatments, for months her absolute neutrophil count – a measurement of a particular white blood cell – was dangerously low. Her body is so fragile that if she were to be infected with the coronavirus – or any number of illnesses – her immune system might not offer her the same protection against the infection as healthy children. For St. Jude, it is of particular importance to keep the patient population and their families safe from Covid.
That is why I believe it’s important for everyone to wear a mask whether their child is healthy or not. If you don’t wear your mask to work – be it at the grocery store or Congress – you may come in contact with the father or mother of a child like Hallie. Don’t think of the mask as something that takes away your freedom. It’s not about control, it’s about benevolence.
Senator Paul, it’s okay to trust masks. St Jude does, and if they do, so do I.