I am writing this as a concerned citizen and superintendent who wants my students back in school. I know we are all tired of the coronavirus and just want to go back to a normal life. Me, too. But we are not where we should or could be at this time. Our collective behaviors make a difference in whether people die. Consider the fact that over 200,000 Americans are dead because of coronavirus and public health agencies are predicting there will be over 400,000 deaths by Jan. 1. The promised vaccine ready by the election or soon after will have no impact on these dreadful numbers.
Unfortunately, too many Arizonans do not follow the Governor’s message to “Mask Up” in public places. Wearing masks in public can save lives, it should not be debatable at this time. Those who refuse to wear masks are harming everyone, and that is a shame. I just cannot understand why everyone does not participate in this common sense, science-based strategy that will help get us back to normal, or at least a better place. If we continue to refuse to do the simple things, like wearing a mask in public, we will continue to get nowhere with the virus.
What got me upset this past weekend was simply shopping at a popular grocery chain store in the Valley and counting 22 customers without masks in one store. I was shocked because I thought it was a law. I guess not. I also watched the presidential political rallies and see little or no signs of mask wearing in the crowds. These people will come back into our communities and risk the safety of us all and delay the safe re-opening of our schools. It seem selfish to me.
The way out of this tough time is not going to be fast or easy and will require effort and leadership at all levels. The Governor has a “Mask Up” campaign that will have limited effect if everyone decides not to participate. Closing the economy is not required or even the answer if we could just agree to do a few things that make sense and could potentially reduce the amount of pain and suffering in Arizona and through the United States.
The one thing that is concerning is the lack of commitment to coronavirus testing. Dr. Fauci, the leading disease scientist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has said repeatedly that we need to have more testing. Unfortunately, we are now doing less testing over the past months which seems to go against the original game plan to fight the virus.
In addition, there are many that are concerned with the CDC changing its own coronavirus testing guidelines on Aug. 24. The new protocol no longer recommend individuals who are around someone who tests positive for coronavirus be tested themselves unless they have symptoms. This is especially alarming considering the CDC estimates that 40 percent of those who test positive for the virus are asymptomatic and can easily spread it to others. Then, just last week, the CDC reversed its guidance and now recommends individuals exposed to someone that tests positive should be tested.
This flip-flop in guidance is concerning and reduces the public’s confidence in the CDC and questions the politicization of the agency that was once recognized as the gold standard in disease science throughout the world. This is especially alarming as the vaccination is being pushed forward by the CDC over the coming months. This decision negatively impacts public confidence in the agency and potentially the vaccine itself. This at a time when we need most Americans to get the COVID vaccination to eventually rid ourselves of this deadly virus.
Most medical experts believe the more coronavirus testing we do the better. Of course, initially we can expect to find more positive cases as we ramp up testing. This will then allow us to isolate those who tested positive and begin to reduce the ACTUAL cases of the coronavirus in our state and communities overtime. The most important reason we need to increase testing is to identify more asymptomatic carriers. Those without symptoms. Remember, this virus does not impact everyone the same. Some people get the coronavirus and have mild cold symptoms, or none, while others suffer greatly and die.
What we do know by now is that everyone who gets the coronavirus can spread the disease, including children. The virus wants to keep spreading because that is what this virus does well. Being an airborne disease makes it very efficient in its ability to do so. The scientific community concurs that the best approach is to find the coronavirus and isolate it to avoid community spread.
The next strategy the scientific community agrees upon is that everyone should a wear masks in public to protect others. Is wearing a mask in public during the midst of a deadly pandemic too much to ask of each citizen? I do not think so. I feel that an individual’s freedom should be limited if it risks the lives and safety of others. Nobody is suggesting taking away our guns; we just wanting to live safely together and as normal as possible.
It is unfortunate. The message at the top was not delivered earlier in the pandemic and isn’t being modeled or endorsed in a meaningful way even today. Americans need a clear message driven by the medical experts like Dr. Fauci, which is reinforced at the top every day going forward. That is what leaders need to do and there is still time. Tell Americans the facts and the truth, and we will do extraordinary things.
The bottom line is that our individual behaviors during this pandemic do impact our state, communities, schools, families, and children. Attending large social events and shopping without wearing a mask is endangering us all. I sincerely hope that we can work together and begin to do the right things. If we do so, we could get to a new normal that is a much better place than where we are at today.
Article was written by Jeff Gregorich, Superintendent of Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District.