To wear, or not to wear, a mask

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Local residents weighed in this week on the hot topic of if and when masks should be worn in public.

The News-Register decided to take the temperature of the local community on this issue, asking a series of related questions in a SurveyMonkey online poll. Nearly 250 people responded, reflecting a wide variety of opinion, but no clear consensus.
Asked if they believe masks should be worn in public, 54 percent of poll participants agreed, 21 percent disagreed, 12 percent neither agreed or disagreed, and 13 percent offered other, more detailed views. Many of those who said they thought masks should be worn clarified that citizens should not be forced to do so as a matter of public policy.
Several poll participants agreed to share their views on the record, though the vast majority were listed anonymously.
“I don’t want to beat anybody over the head with it,” said Leeta Christie, an infection preventionist from Aurora. “We do live in America and we have choices, but I don’t think it’s about choice. I think it’s about being a good citizen. Masks are uncomfortable and they don’t look the coolest, but for the short time we are out within six feet of other people it is one of the easiest things we can do to bring the risk down. Infection control is all about risk.”
“To wear or to not wear a mask is a medical issue with possible medical repercussions and should not be forced onto anyone,” said Esther Bergen of Aurora. “People need the freedom to make their own choices. Give us reliable information so we can choose wisely, but don’t mandate.”
Chris Helzer of Aurora said he has seen and read a lot of conflicting information on the internet about masks, but believes that the research done by actual scientists is clear about how and why masks make a difference in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Because the virus mostly travels in water droplets, even a basic cloth mask can be really effective, especially if everyone is wearing one in indoor spaces,” he said. “Beyond that, it’s just such an easy, common courtesy we can each extend to others in our community. Even if you don’t think masks are important, many others do, and it really helps people who are vulnerable to and/or anxious about the virus to have people around them wearing a mask.”
Helzer’s son works at the Aurora Mall, thus he said he pays particular attention to mask wearing there.  “I am deeply appreciative of everyone who does wear a mask (and wears it correctly) and I really hope others will come around before something bad happens,” he said. “The consequences of an outbreak in Aurora would be terrible for everyone. Putting a small piece of cloth over our mouth and nose when we’re around other people indoors seems like a really small price to pay to help ensure we can all continue to go to work, keep our kids in school, and keep our friends and neighbors safe.
“I also hope our community leaders will take a firmer stance on mask wearing and other safety measures,” Helzer concluded. “I understand there’s a lot of pressure to open everything up and reduce restrictions. At the same time, there’s a reason we have restrictions like stop signs and speed limits ... Letting everyone make their own decisions, regardless of the impact on everyone around them isn’t freedom, it’s anarchy.”
Dr. Jenn Harney of Aurora said its very frustrating to her and others in the health care community that the issue of masking has become so politicized.
“We should worry about COVID as a public health issue, not a political issue,” she said. “I wish our community could look past that. Masking saves lives and health care costs, and it also helps our economic recovery, helps children stay in school, stay in sports and extracurricular activities, so there is way more to it than just distancing. I hope our community can find a reason that works for them to put masking at the top of their priority list.”
Here are some of the other comments reflected in the survey:
“Much more research is needed to determine what the immediate and long-term risks and benefits are, both medically and in legal precedent, before they should be legally required,” wrote one respondent. “My biggest hesitation for requiring masks is that next year it will lead to forced vaccinations, then you’re not talking about wearing an accessory you’re talking about forced medical procedures. Some states already are doing it, and it’s wrong. Besides that, we are dehumanizing our interactions by covering our faces and altering our voices and putting everyone behind safety screens. This is bad enough for adults, but can have serious long-term consequences for kids in their development.”
“The whole mask issue has moved beyond whether or not a mask protects you from COVID,” wrote another local resident. “This has become an issue focusing on personal responsibility and also government control. If you are at high risk for complications of COVID, then yes, wear a mask. If you are afraid you could contract COVID, then yes wear a mask. If you are a healthy adult and feel like wearing a mask is your responsibility, then by all means, wear a mask.
“What is not appropriate is for those that feel that masks should be mandatory to bully others about their viewpoints,” the writer continued. “Stores and businesses have every right to require their employees and customers to wear masks. The government, however, has no right to require a citizen to wear a mask or face punishment. This is a blatant attack on the liberties of every American. Today it is masks, tomorrow vaccines, after that who knows, microchips to buy and sell?”
“Influenza has killed more people than COVID-19,” wrote another local citizen. “We can keep extending the life of this thing or we can open up, let it run its course, and be done with it.”
“It’s an election year,” wrote another. “The Democrats and China unleashed Corona Virus on purpose.”
“It would be appreciated if more community members wore masks,” added another. “I was excited Dollar General opened, but after I walked in the first time I turned around and walked out without shopping because no employees were wearing masks.”
“It’s a sad commentary on some of our local businesses that don’t care enough about their customers to require their employees to wear masks,” wrote another on the same issue. “Aurora Mall is to be commended for requiring employees to wear masks.”
“I refuse to follow any so-called ‘mandate’ that might come from City Hall, the governor of Nebraska, or any other ‘authority’ figurehead,” added another.
“Masks aren’t about protecting yourself, it is about protecting others,” added Kent Goertzen of Marquette. “You may have COVID and not know it and can spread it, whether you are young or old. It is about caring about those around you in your community and their lives. And it is an insignificant burden compared to what harm can be caused if you do accidentally spread it to your friends, family, and others.”

Masks in school?
The second ANR survey question asked if participants believe masks should be worn in school. Forty-seven percent agreed with that concept, while 29 percent disagreed, 13 percent neither agreed or disagreed and 11 percent offered other views.
“I do think there should be mandatory masking at the school,” Leeta Christie said. “Kids don’t have a choice of staying home. I compare it to vaccines and how they protect. Masks are protection against a communicable disease like COVID.”
Dr. Harney shared a similar view.
“I do wish that schools would mandate masks as a requirement,” she said. “I think there could be an outbreak in the school and we’d be chasing our tails. By the time they create a mask mandate, it’s highly likely the virus could have already spread throughout the school. A proactive approach would be the best option and I hope Aurora can take a step in that direction.”
Thoughts on this topic varied widely.
“Asking children below age 5 to wear masks all day is absurd,” wrote one local citizen. “It’s especially concerning when these young children are still developing the foundation of their social/emotional knowledge, their language, and their speech development.”
“I have no problem with people who want to wear a mask, I just don’t think anyone should be forced to wear them -- especially kids in an all-day setting such as school,” echoed another.
“If we ever want to beat back COVID-19, if we ever want the return of sports, if we ever want kids and teachers to feel safe in schools and universities, there’s a simple solution -- wear the darn mask,” wrote another. “If you care at all about other people -- wear the darn mask.”
The third ANR question asked survey participants where they believe masks should be worn. Eighty-six percent agreed that the protective coverings should be worn in medical facilities;
64 percent said masks should be worn in grocery stores; 60 percent in stores/shopping areas; 52 percent in schools/day care facilities; and 10 percent in parks.

Credible sources?
Responses to the question asking survey respondents where they go for information they trust regarding the use of masks were perhaps the most varied of all.
Many listed well-known resources including the Center for Disease Control, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Central District Health Department, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the World Health Organization. However, many reflected a growing level of distrust in sources perceived to put their own spin on reports involving masks and COVID-19 in general.
“I don’t (use) ANY sources -- right, left, independent, or medical,” wrote one frustrated citizen. “All of them have their own interests at heart. They do what’s best for them. I try to do what’s best for my family and loved ones.”
“Because the government lied about the use initially to conserve masks for the medical profession, it’s hard to know who to trust,” wrote another. “I check with the Central Health District for updated info.”
“Anywhere but the mainstream media,” was another view. “I have a hard time trusting numbers out there when there are reports of people not even getting tested and receiving a phone call saying they are positive.”
“It’s impossible to find non-bias information,” agreed another.
“You can’t believe anything you read or hear anymore. I get headaches and feel suffocated wearing masks.”
“Until we know absolute truths about the virus, which right now we can’t because it is more a political football than a disease anyone is actually trying to control, we should allow freedom for the individuals/businesses to determine if facemasks should be worn,” concluded one local survey respondent. “Common sense has gone out the window for a lot of people. Again, this has become an issue of power rather than health and the freedom to live.”


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