Representative Russ Diamond recently brought Lebanon County to national attention once again – but not in a good way. In a statement to the media, he said that masks do more harm than good. This statement caught the attention of Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist, who said such a statement was “dangerous nonsense.” Subsequently, Representative Diamond doubled down, tweeting an infographic that “a masked child is an abused child.”
The idea underlying the representative’s anti-science campaign, that we’re faced with an either/or option, is a false one. It’s not either wear a mask or open the economy. It’s not either follow safety guidelines or send kids back to school in the fall. We have to do both. In fact, these things depend on each other in order to happen.
We have many case studies to look at in regards to dealing with the coronavirus, given that it is a global pandemic. Sweden took a do-nothing approach, which originally appeared to lessen the economic consequences. However, data now show that not only did Sweden’s economy eventually suffer as much as its neighbors, but the country also had many more deaths than those countries that did implement shelter-at-home and other precautions.
Here in the US, we’re watching as states that reopened early and widely, without achieving the recommended metrics and with little in the way of safeguards in place, are now rolling back their openings and experiencing a surge in both positive cases and hospitalizations. Death, the ultimate negative effect, also may increase in the weeks to come – although some progress on treatments may (and hopefully will) help to alleviate that. Still, there are many instances where people with COVID-19 are faced with weeks/months/possibly a lifetime of negative health results.
And what about schools? As a supporter of public education, I recognize the value in having well-trained, professional teachers educating our children. There are also many social and emotional benefits to our children attending schools in person, especially for our most vulnerable.
At the same time, we cannot sacrifice these same children and teachers on the altar of convenience. We need to take seriously the recommendations of the experts. Our politicians — unless they are scientists with experience in medicine, virology, or epidemiology – should listen to those with expertise. Politicians can lead at a time like this by modeling appropriate behavior, providing clear and coherent messaging, and allocating resources to the areas that will help us resume some sense of normalcy.
I would urge everyone that, if we want our businesses to stay opened and our schools to resume in the fall, we focus on these things.
First, we must all – even children – follow the three W’s:
- Wear a mask correctly
- Wash your hands
- Watch your distance
Secondly, our public officials must work together with healthcare providers and private businesses to:
- Ramp up testing, especially rapid results testing for our most vulnerable citizens and our public-facing workers
- Isolate positive cases
- Create teams of contact tracers, including use of technology, with effective protocols for identifying people who may have been infected by a positive case
- Quarantine those who have been exposed until they’re verified not to have the coronavirus, including providing quarantine facilities if/when necessary
When it comes to reopening schools, if we rush into it with no concern for our students/teachers/administrators, as well as the communities they’re all a part of, we will only achieve failure. Here in Lebanon County we have the opportunity, with good leadership and strong community participation, to become an example of how to do things right. We should work together, at all levels, to make ourselves an example of what happens when we follow the best scientifically-based guidance available and focus on both public health and reopening. That’s the recognition I’d like to see Lebanon County receive.
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