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Mask controversy concerns vulnerable populations, like those with cystic fibrosis

Posted at 12:34 PM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 13:30:58-04

Rosie Raabe is an artist, a pet mom, a plant mom and a part of the cystic fibrosis community. She was diagnosed at three years old.

“I wear a mask because if certain particles of bacteria and stuff get into my lungs, it will settle in there and it will cause endless lung infections,” Raabe said.

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breath over time.

“A lot of people think of it as just a lung disease, but actually all your organs are involved. Especially for me, it is digestive,” Raabe said.

Just two and a half years ago, Raabe underwent a liver transplant donated by her brother.

"I’m not crying in the video because I’m trying so hard not to, but it is the most terrifying thing to choose to go through something like that. And actually, at the end of that video I’m like, 'can I bring my mask?'”

Masks have been an everyday part of Raabe’s life. So when she hears there are people who refuse to wear a mask during this pandemic, Raabe says she feels shocked, frustrated and upset somebody would be willing to risk the safety of someone’s life.

“I just feel like it’s really inhuman to be so selfish.”

She says a virus like the one that causes COVID-19 would have devastating effects on her.

“I can’t even imagine what it would do to me, especially me. Because I’m on immuno-suppression for my liver transplant," Raabe said. "So having cystic fibrosis alone is scary enough to get something like this virus – I mean my lungs aren’t in tip-top shape – but on top of that, having immune-suppression, I’m even more susceptible.”

Studies have increasingly shown that masks play a large role in preventing illness. Dr. Chris Nyquist is the Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Whether somebody has cancer, leukemia or in Raabe’s case, cystic fibrosis, Dr. Nyquist says wearing a face covering can make the difference between life and death for people with fragile immune systems.

“The biggest benefit for people wearing cloth-face coverings in public is it actually captures the droplets and spittle that comes out of your mouth and keeps it from landing on someone else and prevents infection," Dr. Nyquist said. "And if you have two people who are both wearing cloth face coverings, that’s a great way to stop the spread of germs.”

If you’re thinking, you're not sick, so why would you need to wear a mask? Well, doctors say you could still be spreading the virus without even realizing it.

“We recognize that more and more people are without symptoms who are infected with COVID-19 and the CDC will give you numbers of up to 40% of people are asymptomatic. So they have the virus in their secretions, in their nasal secretions and in their mouth, and no symptoms. And they’re like ‘I’m clean, I’m free, I’m not sick.’ But that’s exactly the kind of person who really needs to be wearing that cloth face covering so they don’t unknowingly transmit to people,” Dr. Nyquist said.

Raabe says she’s heard people say they choose not to wear a mask right now because it’s hard to breath with it on. However, in her experience, it’s still possible to breath with a mask on, even at 30% lung function.

“Most people have above 100% lung function, and I had 30%, and I still wore that mask every time I was in public. So it’s just crazy to me that people are saying it’s so hard to breathe – 'I can’t breathe' – I’m like, ‘you probably have 100, maybe 90 or 80% lung function. Like you can breathe,’" Raabe said.

Dr. Nyquist says she hopes more people will willingly choose to wear a mask as a part of the social contract to love and care for one another.

“It isn’t politics to wear a face mask. It’s really common love of humanity, and it’s what we’re supposed to do for one another,” Dr. Nyquist said.

“I have to wear one for the rest of my life, you have to wear one for a few months. I just feel like if you could save so many people’s lives, why wouldn’t you do it?” Raabe said.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering