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Beating the virus: Masks are essential

Beating the virus: Masks are essential

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Increasing coronavirus infections throughout the three-county Central Health District are having a heavy toll on everything from schools and day care centers to emergency services, from churches and museums to nonvirus-related medical services.

Businesses are returning to have their employees work from home. Child care centers are closing due to infections within the facilities.

Schools are having increasing difficulty with in-person education as more staff members are sick. On Tuesday, Grand Island Central Catholic moved to remote learning at least until Nov. 30 because of staff illnesses.

On Thursday, Teresa Anderson, health director of the Central District Health Department, said that 55% of the patients in all the hospitals in Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Just from last Sunday to Wednesday, there were 234 new cases in the district.

In Aurora, Memorial Hospital’s Wortman Surgery Center has suspended elective surgeries. In Grand Island, CHI Health has closed its Quick Care location at Hy-Vee in order to send staff to hospitals around the state where they are needed.

Stuhr Museum is now only going to be open four days a week. Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island has stopped in-person services, although services will continue to be livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.

These are just a few examples of the effects the virus has on our area.

Yet, there are people who go into stores, restaurants and other public places without masks to protect themselves and others.

Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele has recommended to the Grand Island City Council that it require that people wear masks in public. The council plans to create a board of health on Monday and then may consider a mask policy on Tuesday.

“The city needs a mask policy to protect its citizens and also to protect the city’s ability to provide its lifesaving services,” Steele said during the community virus update on Thursday. “Having a mask policy can help us guarantee that you receive essential city services and you have access to our hospitals if, God forbid, you need emergency care.”

He said staffing shortages due to the virus affect such city services as electricity, water, street repair and snow removal, as well as police, fire and ambulance response.

“These services save lives,” Steele said. “When city employees become infected and quarantined for two weeks or longer, I cannot call a temporary employment agency and say, send me three more power plant operators or send me three more police officers.”

The only way our district is going to get a handle on this public health emergency and stop the increase in infections is if we all wear masks when in public and maintain social distancing.

The City Council should adopt a mask policy on Tuesday, as Omaha and Lincoln did months ago and as Kearney did last week, and make the policy effective as soon as possible. And we all should follow the policy. The city can make the requirement, but it’s up to us to ensure it makes a difference.

It’s also important for all of us to focus on safety as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week and throughout the holiday seasons in our own homes.

At Thursday’s community update, Anderson pleaded for families to limit the number of people getting together and ask that guests wear masks.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that wearing a mask in the community reduces the spread of the virus, Anderson said.

“Many people don’t know they’re contagious because, for 48 hours before symptoms develop, they’re shedding the virus,” she said. “Some people don’t have symptoms at all the entire time they’re contagious.”

But if we all join together in wearing masks, observing social distancing, washing hands often and staying home as much as possible, we can beat this virus.

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