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Letter: This is how we fight back

Being of Irish descent, St. Paddy’s is always a Day I look forward to. But this year, Paddy’s was very different. I did manage to stop off at the B&J just before the shutdown for a quick pint with my friend James, the last beer in a pub I’ve had since.

But mostly that week was the beginning of the end for life as we knew it. We hurriedly rushed to Northfield and St. Peter to collect our kids from college, drove around town looking for a few rolls of toilet paper (thank you HyVee!!!), and joined our community as we all sheltered in place to help “flatten the curve.”

Trips were cancelled; a planned scientific talk I was giving at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in San Diego turned into a lonely Zoom presentation from my office in Austin. And the scientists and staff at the Hormel Institute hurriedly came together to establish a plan to keep minimal operations going to continue our cancer research in the face of a pandemic. Everything happened so fast.

And it struck me that is how disease happens. Whether a cancer diagnosis affecting an individual and their family or a virus epidemic affecting the whole community, things happen fast. And that rapid change brings with it a sense of helplessness, of being alone, and having no way to fight back. I think this is why community fundraisers like Paint the Town Pink and the Eagles Cancer Telethon play such a critical role for cancer survivors. It is a way for us to come together and to fight back. But how do we fight back this time against a virus we barely understand?

Researchers throughout the world are working tirelessly to improve testing, to develop treatments, and to generate a vaccine, but these take time. In the meantime, what can we do to keep this virus from causing more damage to our society?

Well, I can tell you what the professionals at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic do: we wear a mask in public. Right now you cannot enter either the Hormel Institute or the Mayo Clinic without a mask on. And why do we wear these masks? Think of the doctors and nurses in an operating room — you would be appalled to see them without their masks. And remember, those professionals do not wear masks to protect themselves from their patients, they wear masks to protect their patients from themselves.

We do not wear our masks out of fear or selfishness, or out of taking sides in some cultural/political debate. We wear them to protect our colleagues and neighbors. We wear them to fight back. On behalf of scientists and medical professionals everywhere, I invite you to join with us in this fight. Please wear a mask in public — and be part of the solution to this terrible pandemic.

Dr. Edward “Ted” Hinchcliffe

I.J. Holton Professor

Hormel Institute and the Masonic Cancer Center

University of Minnesota