Do you recognize the name Andy Kaufman?
After working in small comedy clubs in the early 1970s, Kaufman came to the attention of a wider audience in 1975, when he was invited to perform portions of his act on the first season of Saturday Night Live. His Foreign Man character was the basis of his performance as Latka Gravas on the hit television show Taxi from 1978 until 1983. He was also a frequent guest on sketch comedy and late-night talk shows, particularly Late Night with David Letterman. In 1982, Kaufman brought his professional wrestling villain act to Letterman’s show by way of a staged encounter with Jerry “The King” Lawler of the Continental Wrestling Association.
Sadly, Kaufman died due to his superstitious belief in “psychic surgery.” In March of 1984 in hopes that psychic surgeon Jun Labo would cure his large cell carcinoma (lung cancer). Labo proclaimed that he removed his tumors, and Kaufman publicly declared that he believed him.
Kaufman died of renal failure caused by cancer two months later.
In case you aren’t aware, psychic surgery in the Philippines is a “bloodless surgery,” in which a psychic surgeon places his hands on top of your skin and proceeds to pull out what appears to be tumors and organs and such. Your skin is left untouched, which the psychic surgeon attributes to miraculous speed healing. He then insists that the objects he has pulled out were, in fact, in your body, but magician James Randi (who I was fortunate enough to meet and told me this sad tale) has shown psychic surgery as a sleight of hand assisted by a couple of chicken gizzards.
Belief in psychic surgery is not confined to the ignorant. After talking with Randi, I performed psychic surgery on a fellow college student in my undergrad psychology class at Concordia University. I caused many other college students to scream as I supposedly pulled my fellow student’s intestines out of his stomach because they were keeping him imbalanced. Other students ran out of the class. As a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran university, some college students complained to the administration that I might be in league with the devil.
It is dangerous to become smug and complacent in our beliefs without evidence to support that belief. This is especially true, as the case of Mr. Kaufman illustrates, in medicine. See, Superstition in health beliefs: Concept exploration and development (Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care 9(3):1325 March 2020); SUPERSTITIONS IN MEDICINE (JAMA January 6, 1906). Superstitious medical beliefs unsupported by evidence can kill you. Or someone you love.
Today it is not psychic surgery but the superstitious belief that masks should not be worn by students to protect themselves and other students from COVID. Unlike the superstitious belief that masks should not be worn to combat an airborne disease, there is plenty of medical evidence to support that masks protect you and those around you.
The director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Francis Collins, said the current coronavirus surge is being driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. Latest surge may be tipping point for unvaccinated, NIH director says, The Hill (Aug. 1, 2021), https://thehill.com/homenews/sunday-talk-shows/565834-latest-surge-may-be-tipping-point-for-unvaccinated-nih-director. Director Collins also stated that requiring students under the age of 12 to wear masks is a “sacrifice worth making,” and further “I know people are frustrated and it’s gotten very political, and people are looking for someone to blame, just put all that aside and look at the facts.” Director Collins indicated one simple fact: “If delta is as contagious as we now know it is, and we want to try to put an end to what is a very significant uptick right now, wearing masks, if you’re under 12 and can’t be vaccinated when you’re in school, is a really smart thing to do.” NIH director says wearing masks in schools is ‘sacrifice worth making’ (The Hill Aug. 1, 2021), https://thehill.com/homenews/sunday-talk-shows/565817-nih-director-says-wearing-masks-in-schools-is-sacrifice-worth. “While we desperately want to be done with this pandemic, COVID-19 is clearly not done with us, and so our battle must last a little longer,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the CDC said. Delta variant, changing advice sow confusion on vaccine, masks (Star Tribune Aug. 3, 2021), https://www.startribune.com/an-evolving-infection-and-safety-guidance-sow-confusion-in-u-s/600084322/
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) an American professional association of pediatricians, has unequivocally stated:
Everyone over age 2 years should wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth. This is a simple, proven tool to protect students unable to get the vaccine yet or who have chosen not to get it. Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Return-to-School-During-COVID-19.aspx.
The AAP has also addressed the mistaken belief that wearing a mask will make it harder for a child to breathe. There have been concerns that face masks can reduce oxygen intake, and can lead to low blood oxygen levels, known as hypoxemia. However, masks are made from breathable materials that will not block the oxygen a child needs. Masks will not affect a child’s ability to focus or learn in school. The vast majority of children aged 2 or older can safely wear face masks for extended periods of time, such as the school day or at childcare. This includes children with many medical conditions. Mask Mythbusters: 5 Common Misconceptions about Kids & Cloth Face Coverings, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Mask-Mythbusters.aspx
Likewise, the AAP has explained there have been false reports that face masks can lead to carbon dioxide poisoning (known as hypercapnia) from re-breathing the air we normally breathe out. This is false. Carbon dioxide molecules are very tiny, even smaller than respiratory droplets. They cannot be trapped by breathable materials like cloth or disposable masks. In fact, surgeons wear tight fitting masks all day as part of their jobs, without any harm. Id. Nor will wearing a mask interfere with a child’s lung development. This is because oxygen flows through and around the mask, while blocking the spray of spit and respiratory droplets that may contain the virus. Keeping your child’s lungs healthy is important, which includes preventing infections like COVID-19. Id.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, emphasized there is no credible evidence masks are unsafe for children. She said the science is clear that face coverings have prevented the spread of COVID-19 in schools. “If we want to have kids in school this fall, and as many kids as we possibly can get into school, masks are a key component,” she said. Masks in schools: Federal guidance divides parents heading into new school year (Channel 3000 August 2, 2021), https://www.channel3000.com/i/masks-in-schools-federal-guidance-divides-parents-heading-into-new-school-year/
Doctor Gregory Demuri, Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has told schools that “[Making masks optional] is potentially disastrous. Masks should not be optional in a school setting. The CDC has spoken loud and clearly about this.” Further he explained that the delta variant of COVID-19 is easier to spread. “This variant looks like it’s much more contagious. We’re also seeing much more infection, many more infections in children with this variant,” Demuri said. Rural Kenosha County school district says masks are optional (Show transcript Channel 12-WISN April 9, 2021), https://www.wisn.com/article/rural-kenosha-county-school-district-says-masks-are-optional/36081802.
Most recently, 500 pediatricians signed an open letter urging COVID-19 safety measures: Students need to mask up, maintain 3 feet of distance between people whenever possible. those who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated. “We must do everything to keep them safe’: 500 pediatricians sign open letter urging COVID-19 safety measures,” (ABC Channel 9 Wis. Rapids August 25, 2021)
Follow the medical evidence, not what you read on Facebook or even are told by your friends. It is the only way to end your superstitious belief that masks should not be worn by students in school.