November 26, 2020

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Keeping Economy, Schools Open Requires Masks

We are seeing a lesson unfold with the attempt to complete a 60-game Major League Baseball season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its success depends on players’ discipline when outside the ballpark, respect for teammates, and thought about how important their continued shortened season is to Americans looking for escape from the oppressing consequences of a deadly pandemic.

Two teams have already failed this test. The Miami Marlins season was interrupted when 18 players and two coaches tested positive. Now the St. Louis Cardinals have been idled due to four players testing positive for the coronavirus.

If more teams see their schedules interrupted by outbreaks of the virus, they won’t be able to play enough double-headers to make up for the lost games. The season will end sending a message to all other professional, college and high school sports. It will be a demoralizing message to America at a time when we need inspiration.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. The illness comes with fl u and cold-like symptoms including a cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches, and a loss of smell and taste. It is spread on tiny water droplets we exhale.

As of July 25, Minnesota has been under Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order that requires wearing a face covering “in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces, unless alone.”

“This is the way – the cheapest and most effective way – for us to open up our businesses, for us to get our kids back in school, for us to keep our grandparents healthy and for us to get back that life we all miss so much,” Walz said in announcing the mandate.

Businesses are required to post signs about the mask requirement and make sure customers comply. Violations of the mandate are a petty misdemeanor that comes with fines of up to $100 for individuals, and up to $1,000, or up to 90 days in jail, for businesses. 

Protestors claim mask mandates violate their constitutional rights. But in America, the right of the government to implement laws limiting rights in the interests of public safety are well established – think of curfews during riots.

“There have been very few Supreme Court cases involving the government’s power to deal with the spread of communicable diseases,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, wrote in a piece for the L.A. Times.  “The most relevant decision for today was issued in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts in 1905. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a state law requiring compulsory vaccinations against smallpox. The court declared, “Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”

“The court explicitly rejected the claim that ‘liberty’ under the Constitution includes the right of individuals to make decisions about their own health in instances where those decisions could endanger others,” he wrote. “Throughout American history, quarantine orders have been upheld as valid exercises of the police power possessed by state and local governments.”

Since the mask mandate went into effect, we observed a party bus with a group of young people pile out at a bar. People sitting at bars are often close together and not wearing masks. At many events where young people gather, there is no social distancing or mask wearing. Many older citizens dismiss the need for masks or social distancing.

Some cite the words of our top infectious disease experts from the early days of fight against the coronavirus in support of their rebellion against wearing masks. They fail to understand the dynamics of a rapidly evolving battlefield. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” is a well-known military maxim. It applies to our fight against COVID-19. 

In February, as concern about the global spread of the coronavirus grew, CDC Director Robert Redfi eld was asked if healthy people should wear masks. “No,” he said. America’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said, “there is no reason” for Americans to wear masks.

At the time, health experts did not fully understand how the deadly virus spread and didn’t want people rushing out to buy masks when there weren’t enough to protect healthcare workers. Once they understood it could be spread by asymptomatic people, Fauci and Redfi eld began recommending wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.

“Public health policy—including COVID-19 response—should always be informed by the best data available and should evolve with scientific knowledge,” epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, says.

Osterholm has been vocal in urging people to not rely on masks alone to protect themselves and others. He also admonishes those who have said that masks alone will greatly reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“At the outset, I want to make several points crystal clear: I support the wearing of cloth face coverings (masks) by the general public…. Don’t, however, use the wearing of cloth face coverings as an excuse to decrease other crucial, likely more effective, protective steps,” he says.

Osterholm fears people will feel a false sense of security wearing a mask, leading them to ignore other steps to prevent the spread of the disease like frequent handwashing and social distancing.

“He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks,” Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War.” We have a fragmented, 50-state strategy in our fight against the coronavirus. Many Americans have little sense of community responsibility, and within the 50 states people are bitterly divided along ideological and political lines.

Reed Anfinson