Two months ago, I wrote a column about why I was wearing a face mask in public and asked you to wear one as well. As the city planned to reopen, research around masking found it was one simple yet effective way to protect each other from the spread of COVID-19.
Since then, the majority of people I have come into contact with in public have not worn face masks. Yet many of you I’m connected with online have shared mask selfies to break the unfortunate stigma. And some wrote me an email on why you’re masking up. I’ve received both funny stares and thumbs up while sporting a mask in public. The discussion has become messy and politicized in some instances. In others, it has built community around caring for one another. We’re all becoming weary of these restrictions during the pandemic, and that’s caused some to stop viewing COVID-19 as the active threat it is to our economic and public health.
2020 won’t be soon forgotten. But the politicization and wild opinions surrounding masking has to be one of the more difficult realities of the year for me to accept. Reputable science found an easy way to help slow, and in some instances stop, the spread of this disease and many just couldn’t be bothered.
Health experts say wearing a mask, for most, is not harmful. And if you’ve heard just one story about a person who died of COVID-19, how could you not be moved to act? But there’s not just one story. There are 132,056 and counting across this country. Greene County reported its ninth death on July 8.
Then there’s a dollars-and-cents case. Masks could be our best chance at reopening our economy safely. Face coverings trap respiratory droplets from your nose and mouth and prevent them from going into the air or landing on another person or surface. A recent report from Goldman Sachs projected that a nationwide mask mandate could save the U.S. gross domestic product from a 5% hit. And a study in Health Affairs journal estimates between 230,000 and 450,000 cases of the coronavirus were prevented among 15 states that required masks between April 8 and May 15.
I’m hopeful that within days of you reading this column that Springfield City Council makes face masks mandatory in public spaces in Springfield. It’s up for discussion at the July 13 meeting. There’s no good reason that the ordinance shouldn’t pass 9-0. And pressure from the community to vote otherwise should not hold more weight than the guidance from health care experts.
Since we were all given the same science to follow when it came to masking, and so many chose to ignore it, perhaps a fine of, say, $100 will prove to be a more effective argument to follow the science than the chance to save someone’s life.
As I’m writing this column, there are 426 COVID-19 cases in Greene County. But as we saw in other countries and U.S. cities, cases grow quickly. And our data is constantly behind as symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear.
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department has signaled it has traced community spread of the disease and a local health system has recorded a rapid increase of its positive testing rate.
On July 6, the Health Department said it issued 67 public exposure notices in the past two weeks, its most active period to date. The next day, CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards said in a letter to Mayor Ken McClure that the health system has recorded a 43% increase in positive lab results in the past week. Just a month ago, its positive testing rate was 0.5%, and now it’s 10.7%. Over Independence Day weekend, CoxHealth received three COVID-19 patient transfers from Freeman Hospital in Joplin and six other patient transfers. And while Edwards said CoxHealth has enough personal protective equipment and beds to treat these cases, it only has enough needed medications, such as remdesivir, to treat 10 COVID-19 patients. A letter to the mayor from Mercy Hospital Springfield officials says failure to act on a masking ordinance now may require the city to reinstate more drastic measures later, like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic.
The quick rise of cases in Joplin showed us what a possible outbreak might look like in our community. The city is experiencing a COVID-positive ratio of 596 per 100,000 people, as compared to 114 per 100,000 in Springfield, according to the Springfield Health Department.
Joplin City Council voted down a mandatory mask ordinance 5-4 at the end of June. But two weeks later with the city hospital full, Joplin’s council passed the ordinance 6-3. St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia already have passed such ordinances.
In Springfield, national attention came our way for the effectiveness of masking through the now-famous Great Clips incident. Two hair stylists, who were masked while at work, tested positive for COVID-19, but not one of their 140 clients, who were also masked, tested positive.
Our leaders now have their own choice to make as to whether we’ll follow the science and lessons from what we’ve learned in our own backyard. And there’s no time to waste.
As CoxHealth’s Edwards said in his letter to the mayor, the time to act is now: “Our physician disease experts cannot point to a particular trigger point, because there really is no science that has evidence on when it is too early to mask. We only have science that tells us when it is too late to mask. They feel we are approaching that point rather rapidly.”
Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hybrid coffeehouse and plant shop Urban Grounds launched in Ozark; the Missouri Job Center relocated; and Closet Chic LLC opened a brick-and-mortar shop.