Sherman: An open letter to Dr. Sara Cody
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody speaks about COVID-19 in 2022 in this file photo.

    Dr. Sara Cody,

    I’m 32 years old. I have myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as “chronic fatigue syndrome.” It causes profound exhaustion which is triggered by normal, everyday activities. My quality of life has rapidly and deeply diminished over the last five years. If I were to contract COVID-19, my chronic fatigue would be much worse than it already is, likely leaving me unemployable and bedbound.

    I cannot allow that to happen.

    My partner and I have been working diligently to avoid catching COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. We avoid public spaces, wear high-quality masks when we have to go out and are fully vaccinated and boosted. But our current generation of vaccines is not able to prevent people from catching or spreading COVID. They do an excellent job at mitigating severe acute illness. But research continues to show that even fully vaccinated people develop long-term illness from COVID at alarming levels.

    Multiple studies have shown that a mild COVID infection more than triples the risk of heart attack and stroke. Another showed that the chances of dying from any cause increased tenfold in the year following a COVID infection. Worse, the tenfold increase was seen in patients who were not hospitalized. Among patients who were hospitalized, the increased risk of death skyrocketed to 100 times.

    The CDC recently updated its guidelines on reporting deaths caused by long COVID, encapsulating the severity of this situation:

    “Emerging evidence suggests that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, can have lasting effects on nearly every organ and organ system of the body weeks, months, and potentially years after infection. Documented serious post-COVID-19 conditions include cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, renal, endocrine, hematological, and gastrointestinal complications, as well as death.”

    Suffice it to say, vaccines are not the end-all be-all that we were hoping for. And Paxlovid is far from a “slam dunk” for preventing long-term complications from COVID infections, according to a recent study. So there is tremendous value in avoiding COVID infection in the first place, even for vaccinated and otherwise healthy people.

    Masks are one of the most effective tools we have to prevent the spread of COVID. That’s why the California Department of Public Health’s recent decision to end masking requirements in health care facilities will be so devastating to our collective health and the economy.

    This decision hurts patients, health care workers and businesses. It will render health care unsafe and inaccessible to the highest risk patients. Removing masking from health care is no different from removing wheelchair ramps from hospitals—it explicitly excludes people who have the most to lose from the decision.

    No one should have to risk catching COVID while trying to access health care.

    For health care workers, it creates an unsafe working environment and hurts their ability to access personal protective equipment from employers. Removing masking requirements threatens to increase transmission of illness, as well as increase death and disability among health care workers. This will exacerbate the existing health care worker crisis, putting medical facilities in the position of operating at less than full capacity—thereby repeating the cycle of harm upon both patients and health care workers.

    To this end, I insist that you ensure masking requirements remain in health care settings for Santa Clara County as a means of protecting the most vulnerable, the workers who care for them and the people who love them.

    Justin Sherman is a San Jose resident with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

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