Op/Ed Opinion

Editorial: COVID’s back: Should masking be too?

ANGELO LYNN

In the movie this winter, “Don’t Look Up,” a huge comet is approaching Earth on a trajectory that’s sure to cause cataclysmic destruction upon impact. The president, however, chooses to tell her supporters not to believe the scientists who are trying to inform the nation, and world, of the yet-unseen gigantic rock that will soon collide with Earth. The chant among the president’s followers becomes “don’t look up” — a parody of those who initially chose to deny the deadly threat of the Covid-19 virus (following ex-president Trump’s lead) and, by extension, of their refusal to wear facemasks once it was proven to help prevent its spread.

Refusing to acknowledge truth in the face of facts appears to be a hallmark of today’s culture. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, we are slow to respond to current threats.

Today’s threat is that the Covid virus is back and its spread is more rampant than ever. And Vermont, as well as the Northeast, is one of the hottest zones in the country.

Here are some recent facts, according to a New York Times story on Wednesday:

  • Federal health officials warned that a third of Americans live in areas today where the threat of Covid-19 is so high they should consider wearing masks in indoor public settings.
  • Nationally, the seven-day average of hospital admissions from Covid rose 19% over the previous week.
  • About 3,000 people a day are now being admitted to hospitals with Covid. Fortunately, death rates remain low (possibly because so many have been previously vaccinated.)
  • As of this Tuesday, the average of new, confirmed coronavirus case in the U.S. surpassed 100,000 a day for the first time since Feb. 20; that figure is up a shocking 61% from two weeks ago — and the number could be far higher because many people are not reporting the results of at-home tests.

That the spread of the virus has jumped significantly in recent weeks has been widely reported by state and national media. The problem is that too many people are choosing to ignore the warnings. They don’t want to look up.

That’s evident in another statistic: 62 percent of those aged 50-64 have not received a booster in the past six months, nor have 57 percent of those 65 and older. Have you?

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, also said that Americans living in the nation’s hot spots, including Vermont, should take precautions. “We urge local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies like masking in public indoor settings and increasing access to testing and treatment for individuals.”

Forget state action or guidance. The question is to the individual and what makes sense to each one of us.

SHOULD AREA SCHOOLS MASK UP?

This news presents especially tough decisions for local school officials just when senior parties, school assemblies to celebrate the year’s work, graduation ceremonies and many other events are on-going or being planned.

At this stage in the pandemic, most agree that it’s more harmful than helpful to shutdown activities, but we can, and should, consider wearing masks again when indoors in public places. That includes schools.

Already area schools have seen large outbreaks of the virus. Recently, more than 50 students at Middlebury Union Middle School were infected. The protocol, remember, requires multiple days in quarantine and no return to school or work until after testing negative. While students and parents don’t have to worry too much about serious illness, it’s bad enough to keep a student out of class — and adults out of work — for up to 10 days if symptoms are severe.

Such likely absences are enough of a consequence for school administrators to reconsider a masking requirement and other preventative measures — and for parents and students to happily comply.

The risk-benefit analysis is not that tough to figure out:

  • Wearing a mask is not that much of a nuisance; and if it means being able to have school assemblies, celebrations and a real graduation event, most would agree it’s worth it.
  • Students should not want to get Covid just ahead of final exams, and all the other pressures — and joys — of the last weeks of the school year. Staying healthy should be a top concern so they don’t miss those important and memorable milestones.
  • Teachers and administrators could easily move classes back outside, when possible, and hold larger events in larger venues to prevent crowding students, parents and others into small spaces. It’s not foolproof, but every preventative measure helps.

None of these measures need to drastic, but they could make the final three-to-four weeks of school this year more enjoyable — and safer — for hundreds of area students and their families.

— Angelo Lynn

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The Addison Independent will be closed on Monday, July 4th. The newspaper will be published on Thursday, as usual.