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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely health leader: Face-mask wearing should be compulsory

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/1/20

ELY – As many as two dozen states, mostly in the south and west, are reversing their re-opening plans because of spikes in cases of the novel coronavirus. Governors in Florida, Arizona and …

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Ely health leader: Face-mask wearing should be compulsory

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ELY – As many as two dozen states, mostly in the south and west, are reversing their re-opening plans because of spikes in cases of the novel coronavirus. Governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas quickly reopened their states while taking a low-key approach to social distancing and mask-wearing. Now each of them is seeing skyrocketing coronavirus caseloads and rising hospitalizations.
In Minnesota, there have been 35,584 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of early this week and as many as 1,460 deaths attributed to the pandemic.
As the Fourth of July holiday weekend brings families and crowds together in the Northland, many residents here continue to believe northern Minnesota is untouchable by COVID-19.
An Ely health professional asked one question this week, “Why aren’t more people wearing face coverings?”
Jon Erickson, the executive director of the Ely Community Health Center, continues to voice caution about steps to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“Although it is only a recommendation and not yet a mandatory requirement, wearing a face covering when you cannot ensure proper physical distancing should be compulsory,” he said. “It is the only method, beyond re-implementing the mandatory stay-at-home orders, to restricting the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.”
Last month, Erickson was asked to comment on the impact on public health in conducting a parade-type “patriotic march.” Such an activity is slated to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday in downtown Ely.
“We are now seeing a lot of tourists and visitors coming to experience what Ely has to offer, but since we have no way to check where these people are coming from, we have a hard time assessing what the future risk level really is,” Erickson said. “There is an established risk metric which would classify the Ely Fourth of July parade as a moderate risk as long as the parade organizers enforce physical distancing rules (where individuals from different households remain spaced at least six feet apart and wear face coverings).”
He added, “If the parade organizers do not enforce the separation of households by six feet and enforce the use of face coverings, the risk level would be elevated to the second highest level, which is the higher risk classification and should not be permitted this year.”
Erickson said his position is influenced by “the general laissez-faire of the (Ely) community” in wearing face coverings in community gatherings and supermarkets. “In my observation, too many people are not following the general CDC guidelines, so that asking the parade organizers to enforce these rules when the community is not supporting them would not be a good decision,” he said.
Medical professionals are starting to see that significant virus transmissions are happening from people who are infected by the virus but are not demonstrating symptoms of the disease, according to Erickson.
“If you think that the risk of catching the virus is small because we live in a small rural community, the more important issue is that you could be a carrier of the virus but not demonstrating the symptoms,” he said. “So please understand that wearing a face covering is not necessarily about protecting yourself, but about protecting your fellow community residents.”
For now, face coverings may be the least liberty-restricting option available to public health officials.
“But if not enough people wear face coverings, further freedoms could be taken away, that’s when social distancing is enforced, and certain lockdowns are resumed,” Erickson warned.
Gov. Tim Walz said a statewide mandate requiring all people to wear masks while in public is “on the table.”
While he didn’t give an indication this week on when he’d decide, the governor said such a move would offer public health benefits while helping businesses that are struggling to enforce their own mask rules.
In several other states this week, governors have delayed or even pulled back their next reopening phase amid rising case counts.
“It is unknown what the scope of the COVID-19 outbreak is, and it is unknown when there will be a vaccine,” Erickson said. “What is known is that face coverings can help curb deaths, if people decide to put one on.”
For more information, contact Erickson at director@elycommunityhealth.org or call 218- 365-5678.

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