Washington County Mask Mandate

A group of customers wears face masks as they leave the Walmart store on West Market Street back in July. Dr. Jeff Farrow said those who speak out against wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic are being irresponsible.

Troubled by other medical professionals speaking out against the use of face coverings as means to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, Dr. Jeff Farrow, a pulmonologist and critical care doctor, decided he too had to speak out — against those he sees as acting irresponsibly in the midst of a pandemic that’s already killed more than 200,000 Americans.

“I had been made aware that there were some physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers speaking out against wearing masks, stating that they weren’t helpful and that they were actually potentially harmful, and that it made no good sense to do any sort of protection when you’re out in the public, and it just really bothered me,” said Farrow, who has also treated critically ill COVID-19 patients for Ballad Health.

“We’re out there to say we’re treating those patients and they’re not, and we know that it’s different,” Farrow said later, referencing more than a dozen people working in the COVID-19 unit at Johnson City Medical Center who co-signed his letter. “It’s not like influenza, it’s not H1N1 swine flu that we had a few years back, it’s very different and it’s totally changed the way we treat people.”

Farrow had originally submitted the letter to the Johnson City Press as a letter to the editor, though the paper’s policy says letters with more than one one author are generally not accepted. In his letter, Farrow called on other medical professionals to “do no harm” and “recognize that no matter your political beliefs, your opinion of ‘overreach’ of the government or your concern about our current healthcare system in the Tri-Cities, that our words and our behavior in public can directly affect the response of those without the privilege of our education or experience to act accordingly.”

In a statement to the Press, a Ballad Health spokesperson said the system encourages people to mask up at all times in public, and said the benefits to wearing a mask “far outweigh any discomforts or inconveniences.”

“We’re committed to doing everything possible to fight COVID-19, and we’re immensely grateful to have passionate, empowered people from our communities fighting alongside us,” the statement read.

In an interview with the Press on Friday, Farrow said he was dismayed that face masks have become a political issue, rather than a public health one. He was also bothered by the idea that COVID-19 isn’t as serious as it’s being made out to be.

“It bothers me that people think this is about politics or freedom,” Farrow said. “This is not a political thing, it’s not something that we’re going to show up at a rally to (support), we just thought, you know, we’re taking care of these people, we’re seeing people die and to imply that it’s not as bad as it’s being made out to be is irresponsible in my view.”

Farrow said he feels those speaking out against mask mandates are misinformed.

“It’s one thing to have your opinion, and maybe choose to do what you want to do when you walk into a public place, but it’s another thing, in my view, to be a healthcare provider people listen to and encourage individuals to not be safe around those that they care about,” Farrow said. “For me, that was the whole reason I wrote the letter.”

In his letter, Farrow urged members of the community to seek advice from reputable sources, and said “our response and responsibilities must be taken seriously no matter how inconvenient.”

“This is not the time to say, ‘I’ve had it’ or ‘It’s not that big of a deal’ or whatever,” Farrow said. “Your choice affects others, and that’s probably the center message for this whole thing.”

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