Jean Wendland Porter
Jean Wendland Porter

A friend recently told me that her co-worker doesn’t believe in vaccines. They are microbiologists.

I know of someone who is a flat-earth believer. He’s an amateur pilot.

We see healthcare workers wearing masks below their noses, effectively making them ineffective and useless. There is no excuse for discounting the science. For the last six months, healthcare workers have been encouraged, no, mandated to wear masks at work, and in the community. We are protecting ourselves. But it’s obvious to those of us who work with COVID-19 patients that we must protect others from us. Asymptomatic spread is a continuing concern.

Now The New York Times says that the masks we wear at work may actually be protecting us by allowing just enough of the virus through to create an immune response. Wearing a mask may be like getting tiny inoculations every day. Not enough to make us sick; just enough so that we don’t. This theory is unproven. But wouldn’t that be a kick in the behind if it were true? We are careful. We have seen the devastation and tragedy that this virus is causing, and by protecting ourselves from direct infection, we are protecting ourselves in the long run, as well as protecting our loved ones.

The New England Journal of Medicine has published a commentary stating that “variolation” may be protecting health care workers more than we knew. What’s variolation? It typically refers to how people got smallpox immunity in the 19th century and is not a replacement for vaccination. It allows small doses of exposure over a long period of time as prophylaxis against infection. The theory that is posited here is that those small doses that sneak in through or under the mask are keeping us well. Larger doses, i.e., without a mask, will lead to severe symptoms, and we know where that can lead.

My anecdotal experience is that few of us are getting sick. Few of us are getting positive tests from the bi-weekly mandated testing. We are doing something right. The patients who survive the hospital and wind up with us are those who say they trusted that having that mask-less baby shower outside would be safe.

Wearing masks at work and in the community is not just a means of keeping others safe. They may be improving our chances of getting through the next few months without getting sick. Focus on infection control by giving everyone the best possible chance and keep those masks coming.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD is the regional director of therapy operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.