Mask up Wyoming

From the June 28 Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Those who refuse to wear masks may ruin things for everyone

What’s it going to be, folks? Some minor inconvenience in exchange for summer fun, or this continued refusal to wear face coverings or stay 6 feet apart when around other people?

Although no one likes it, that’s really what it comes down to.

Oh sure, many of you still think that’s some sort of false choice created by us in the media, as if we sit at our computers and look for ways to sabotage our society (including our own ability to earn a paycheck). But if you don’t believe us, take another look at Wednesday and Thursday’s editions of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

In the Wednesday paper, you’ll read Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons’ fears of a potential increase in COVID-19 cases following the previous Saturday’s Summertime On The Streets event. Why? Because very few of the hundreds of people enjoying local bars, restaurants and stores were wearing masks or social distancing.

By Tuesday afternoon, we knew of at least five local restaurants with employees who had tested positive. We can only imagine how many others those people came into contact with on Saturday alone.

The next day’s paper sums up the challenge we all face perfectly. One story talks about admirable efforts by the city’s four economic development agencies – Visit Cheyenne, Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority, Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and Cheyenne LEADS – to provide some activities to fill the void caused by the cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days. Their plan for what they’re calling Cheyenne Days, Legendary Nights currently includes concerts, art shows and possibly even a pancake breakfast.

Yet right next to that story is news that the city of Cheyenne has canceled the Fridays on the Plaza concert series for the entire summer because organizers don’t trust those in attendance to do the right thing. They’ve seen the way most people are behaving, and don’t want to risk a large spike in cases impacting the start of a new school year and fall events.

Which brings us back to those refusing to wear face coverings. While we try to refrain from name-calling, the only good analogy we can come up with is that they’re like spoiled, obstinate children. They don’t like to be told what to do, and no amount of cajoling, begging or bribing by Mom and Dad will get them to comply.

Want to go watch the Cowboys play football this fall at War Memorial Stadium? Please wear a mask to the grocery store.

Want your children to go back to school instead of face more days and weeks sitting at the kitchen table, trying to get them to do their homework? Then please keep your distance when standing in the food truck line.

Want to keep your favorite local eatery in business so you can someday walk back in, greet the owner with a handshake and sit down to a great meal? Then please listen to the health experts and take the necessary precautions until a proven vaccine is widely available.

And let’s not forget the main reason we shut everything down in mid-March: to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed with severe cases of the disease, and forcing doctors to choose who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t. Yet this week we learned of record numbers of hospitalizations in states like Texas, Arizona, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, all of which have tried to quickly return to normal.

So what’s changed? It’s summer, people are tired of being cooped up at home, and our president (who has never been seen in public wearing a mask) has wrongly convinced some people that the pandemic will soon “fade away.” But public health experts say it’s not going to – and higher numbers this week aren’t just due to more testing; as more things reopen, more transmission of the virus is occurring.

Again, we face a choice. Follow advice and slow the spread, or pretend we’re invincible and make things worse. Because as much as the deniers want to pretend COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, the science says otherwise. Although both are strains of the coronavirus, and both are respiratory diseases, the main difference is we have vaccines and built-up immunity to the most common strains of influenza. That’s not true for COVID-19.

And those who say more people die of flu each year than have died of COVID-19 are simply misinformed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, from Oct. 1, 2019, to April 4, 2020, an estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people died from the flu. As of Friday, more than 126,000 people have died nationwide from COVID-19 (nearly 2,500 died Thursday alone). And since we really only started tracking this disease in early March, more than twice to five times as many people have died from COVID-19 in four months as died of the flu in six months, and many more could have died from it earlier this year.

Plus, the COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. Doctors and scientists are learning more every day. But what they know already is that it can be passed by people without symptoms, its incubation period can be as long as 14 days, and carriers are likely most contagious in the 48 hours before they get symptoms, which means people who look and feel fine are likely doing the most damage. (And that could include you.)

The main thing scientists know is that it’s spread primarily through droplets coming from people’s mouths when they breathe, talk, sneeze or cough. Which is why face coverings are so important.

Are they comfortable? No, but they’re not really that bad, either. Do we wish we didn’t have to wear them? Of course. We much prefer seeing people’s friendly smiles to feeling like the entire planet is the inside of an intensive care unit.

But we strongly believe this is short-term pain for long-term gain (plus, just like protecting our climate, the decision about whether to wear a mask should be based on science, not ideology). And while some are calling for government leaders to issue mask mandates, followed by authoritarian enforcement, we’re trying to hold out hope that it won’t come to that.

So what will it be? Mask up or lock down (again)? The choice is yours.

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