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At Central District Health Department, Ricky Solis, health clerk (left), Jonna Mangeot and Stacey Salpas, both community health nurses, wear their masks to work every day. Wearing masks while in public is essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19, CDHD Director Teresa Anderson said. (Independent/Brandon Summers)

It’s not a question of politics, according to the Central District Health Department. It’s a question of public health and being safe.

Wearing a mask while in public protects people from COVID-19 and reduces the spread of the virus.

“We know masks can help protect us in the community,” CDHD Director Teresa Anderson said. “The research shows that if you have a mask on and I have a mask on, we’re protecting ourselves from each other.”

Though Grand Island joined the rest of Nebraska in advancing to Phase 3 of the state’s directed health measures, relaxing the restrictions placed on businesses, wearing masks or other protective coverings is still advised.

“If one of us unknowingly has COVID, and I have the mask on, the particles are contained in my mask so they don’t get to you,” Anderson said. “If neither of us has a mask on, we’re both pretty much sitting ducks.”

She added, “Even if the masks are worn poorly, it’s better than not having a mask on.”

Fewer people are wearing masks in public, according to area businesses.

Chuck Donner, store manager of Super Saver, Grand Island Five Points, said only slightly more than half of the store’s customers wear masks.

“I’d say probably 70% of our customers wear masks,” Donner said. “It would be nice if at least 95% would (wear masks) because that’s about the easiest way to slow this up.”

Nick Griffin, Hy-Vee manager of store operations in Grand Island, also reported that only about half of the customers wear masks.

“It’s about an even split. It’s not everybody, but a lot of people are,” Griffin said.

Both stores have protective measures, such as social distancing marks on the floor, sterilizing wipes and hand sanitizer, and protective checkout barriers.

Ideally, all of the store’s customers should be wearing masks, Griffin said.

“We know that the masks don’t necessarily protect the person wearing them so much as they protect everyone else,” he said. “While we’re trying to protect the customers, it would be nice if we could see that in return.”

Some stores, such as Menards and both Goodwill locations, require masks.

The scientific support for the protective value of masks has only grown stronger, Anderson said.

It has also been demonstrated that in communities where people wear masks the spread of the virus has been reduced significantly, she said.

“With COVID, you can have it and not even be aware. You may not even feel ill,” she said. “You put on a mask to protect others, your grandma, from you. You wouldn’t even be aware you’re spreading the disease.”

In May, Grand Island was a nationwide example of a COVID-19 hotspot, with a peak positivity rate of 47%.

That has since been reduced to a rate of less than 4% due to protective measures.

“We went up about as fast as we came down,” Anderson said. “We don’t know exactly what happened, but we have to attribute some of that reduction in the spread to people who practice social distancing and wash their hands, stayed home. The fact that school ended early was very helpful.”

A second wave of COVID-19 is expected by health experts.

“We do believe it will come back again,” Anderson said. “We still have low-level spread in the community. It’s still here. What we do now to keep it at bay is absolutely critical.”

Anderson described wearing a mask as “essential.”

“In some states, they’re mandated. In Nebraska, it’s a personal choice,” she said. “We also know that personal choices and the community working collaboratively is what’s going to get us through this pandemic without going back to what we had in April and May.”

For more information on COVID-19 safety and precautions, visit cdhd.ne.gov.

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