OPINION: Really want to help businesses, teachers, community? Mask up

It is no surprise that issues surrounding COVID-19 safety precautions have become a sticking point between teachers’ union leaders and district administrators in Washougal. 

Teachers are right to worry about their own safety and the health of their students, especially in light of recent stories highlighting how fast the coronavirus can spread within groups of young people — 82 campers, counselors and staff recently tested positive for COVID-19 at a Missouri summer camp for teens and Oregon public health officials recently revealed that COVID-19 cases among children younger than 10 had grown from 59 to 319 in just one month, and said daycare outbreaks were partially to blame. 

Teachers, especially those who are older than 50, have an underlying health condition or are worried about household family members vulnerable to contracting a more severe case of COVID-19, are understandably concerned about returning to classrooms filled with children who may be carriers of the coronavirus without ever showing symptoms. 

On the other side of the bargaining table, school district administrators are likely feeling pressure from the many families and government officials pushing for a return to in-person classes this fall. 

Unfortunately, both sides will likely remain in an impossible situation as long as we have no coherent federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Trump administration has proven it is completely incapable of handling the worst public health crisis since the devastating 1918-19 flu epidemic, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States. 

Not only did the president ignore the COVID-19 threat for nearly two months, wasting valuable time in January and February that could have been spent quarantining while we ramped up testing and contact-tracing capabilities, he has continued to lie about COVID-19’s threat to the public, discounted his own public health experts’ warnings and turned a virus that has killed more than 130,000 Americans into a racist joke, calling it “the Kung flu,” at his campaign rallies. 

There are many folks out there who are crossing their fingers and hoping the November election will bring a change of the guard at the federal level, and that former Vice President Joe Biden might be able to lead our country out of its COVID-19 nightmare. 

Unfortunately, waiting until January 2021 may be too late. By then, if our country continues down its current path — reopening without coherent mask mandates despite rising COVID-19 cases — the coronavirus may have spread too far and too fast to easily rein in. 

We all need to get on the same exact page if we have any chance of safely reopening our schools, keeping our businesses running and avoiding hundreds of thousands of deaths over the next four months. 

As we learned from CDC officials this week, public health experts now say wearing face coverings is our best bet for fighting COVID-19 in the short-term. 

“If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really think in the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control,” three of the CDC’s leading public health experts — Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC; Dr. Jay C. Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases; and Dr. John T. Brooks, chief medical officer of the CDC’s COVID-19 response — wrote in a recent JAMA editorial

There are many in the Camas-Washougal community who have balked at wearing masks — including a few public officials and business leaders. 

Those minority views only hurt the efforts of the majority who want to see us known down COVID-19, keep our businesses open and safely return to in-person school classes at some point during the 2020-21 school year. 

Instead, we would urge local leaders in Camas and Washougal to follow the lead of other towns’ that are taking a staunchly pro-mask stance. 

On a recent trip to the Oregon Coast, for example, this editor noticed posters taped to every business window in Yachats, featuring local residents wearing colorful masks and urging visitors to protect locals and businesses by also donning face coverings. Having covered Yachats city government for the local newspaper for several years, I wasn’t surprised to see this type of “we’re all in this together” approach. For visitors who love the quirky town of Yachats, the posters were a reminder that it takes all of us to keep each other safe and to keep these beloved small businesses open. 

There are countless other examples, but the message in all of them is clear: Wearing a mask in public will not only protect ourselves and our neighbors but also help our small businesses stay open and our educators start to feel safer when they consider returning to in-person classrooms next year.  

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