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Requiring masks is next key step

Requiring masks is next key step

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The coronavirus statistics presented at the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education meeting Thursday were like a slap in the face for the community.

This is an extremely serious situation and we need to wake up to it.

It has been great as restrictions have loosened up since August. We’ve felt better about getting together in groups. The kids have been back in school. We’ve gone to church on Sunday. We’ve gone shopping and out to restaurants and bars.

And, unfortunately, many of us have begun to think we can do this without a mask.

But now the Central District Health Department risk dial is up to 3.8 — almost as high as it goes — and the CHI Health St. Francis ICU is full.

This is scary and it’s unacceptable.

We all bear responsibility for reducing the spread of coronavirus in the community. We all need to realize that we need to go back to staying home as much as possible and always wearing a mask when we have to be out in public, like we did last spring.

At Thursday’s school board meeting Cory Gearhart, GIPS executive director of information technology, said as of Thursday afternoon, there were 465 students absent and 78 staff members absent due to COVID-19. Both of these numbers are all-time highs for the district.

Gearhart also showed a graph with the GIPS staff positivity rate in comparison to Hall County’s.

In the past month, GIPS’ staff positivity rate has surpassed Hall County’s and it’s now at 146% of the county’s positivity rate.

These increases likely are due to exposure to the virus in the communiy, rather than the schools, since GIPS has strict protocols in place about masks and social distancing.

Keeping our children and teachers in school must be one of our community’s priorities.

At a community coronavirus update Tuesday, Grand Island Central Catholic Principal Jordan Engle said that while no one likes wearing a mask, it is much better for students to wear masks in school than not having them there as schools provide a lot more than just academics, such as nutrition and mental health services.

The routine of going to school and the opportunity to be around their friends and teachers is important to the mental health of our students. With the policies our local schools have instituted, it is possible for them to continue going to school safely, but if they are exposed to the virus outside of school because someone in their family or a neighbor hasn’t been wearing a mask, then they can unknowingly take the virus into their school.

Karen Rathke, Heartland United Way president, said it clearly when she spoke Tuesday to the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

“We are in a crisis,” Rathke said. “Our risk dial is at 3.8. Our hospitals here are full. They’re full in Omaha. They’re full across the state. We need to be sounding that alarm.”

Statewide, as of Thursday, Nebraska has had 92,553 cases and 756 deaths. And the number of people hospitalized with the virus increased to set another new record at 905.

As of Wednesday, the state has had 89,942 cases and 731 deaths. And the number of people hospitalized with the virus increased to set another new record at 885.

In a Thursday press conference, Gov. Pete Ricketts said, “It’s critical that each person reduce their mobility and contact with others.”

“The pandemic is getting worse in Nebraska,” the governor said, and it is “spreading all across the state.”

Ricketts made clear that he believes masks work to prevent spread of the coronavirus. But he stopped short of issuing a mask mandate for the state. He previously has said that he thinks a mandate doesn’t work because it breeds resentment and may be difficult to enforce.

Mayor Roger Steele also has not issued a mask mandate in Grand Island, as Lincoln and Omaha have done. Some stores here have signs requiring that people wear masks there, but businesses want customers and some do little to make sure that people keep their masks on in their stores.

This situation has become so serious that it is time that the city of Grand Island requires people to wear masks when out in public. It would be even better if the governor would issue a mask mandate for the entire state.

The time for threats has passed. It’s time for action by local leaders.

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