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Editorial: It’s the least we can do for each other

Editorial: It’s the least we can do for each other

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We’re sick of COVID-19, even if we haven’t gotten sick from it. No question.

We also wish we could just cast off these masks that our friends and neighbors in the medical professions say help to slow — not stop, but slow — the spread of this virus that has killed some 200,000 Americans.

That’s the course urged upon North Platte’s school board last week by some of our fellow residents. They want district leaders to let them sign a liability waiver so their kids can skip wearing masks in school.

If it were only a matter of our own risk of getting COVID-19, that would be one thing.

But this isn’t just about whether students and teachers without masks might get COVID-19 at school.

It’s also about the risk of others getting COVID-19 if those without masks should have the virus — which spreads far too easily — without knowing it.

And it’s about the reality that if the coronavirus sweeps through our schools, our students will be right back where they wound up in March: home.

We need to stay focused on what each of us can do — not just masks, but also social distancing and frequent hand-washing — to restrain this pandemic until safe, reliable COVID-19 vaccines are ready for use.

We just don’t know, when someone gets this virus, what it will do to them. Most, it seems, will recover. But some who have already have lasting health problems because they had COVID-19.

Please note well that our own city, county and state have made absolutely no move to mandate that all residents wear masks. (Omaha and Lincoln had separate powers available to them in imposing their mandates.)

Neither has the West Central District Health Department, which — even though it’s charged with fighting the virus — cannot impose more stringent measures than those authorized by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

But both WCDHD and the governor, who also listens to health experts, continue to strongly recommend that we wear masks, keep our distance and keep sanitizing.

They’re still our best tools, until we have a safe, reliable vaccine, to live our lives and exercise our freedoms as normally as possible.

Now let’s turn to North Platte’s schools, which of course are responsible for the health of their students and staff.

Most of their extracurricular activities, and virtually all of their classes, take place indoors. COVID-19’s far from over. Flu season is on the way.

That’s why Superintendent Ron Hanson said last week that the district will keep its mask mandate for the rest of the calendar year. School leaders will re-evaluate then.

WCDHD “does not tell us what to do,” Hanson and school board members said Monday. But they do pay close attention to the recommendations of our own community’s medical experts. Our neighbors.

Our school board voted last month to task Hanson and his leadership team with day-to-day management of COVID-19 health measures in the district.

Isn’t that exactly what we expect of them with any contagious bug?

If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, Hanson said, medical experts continue to say that anyone who had contact with him or her without a mask needs to be quarantined for two weeks.

It’s precisely because the school district is mandating masks in school, he added, that the health district hasn’t recommended widespread quarantines from the handful of COVID-19 exposures thus far this school year.

There’s always more precautions one can take, of course. North Platte’s school officials, for example, should consider installing plexiglass around teachers’ desks, as some other districts have, even if students’ desks are 6 feet apart.

Even so: Is mask-wearing and social distancing by students, teachers or any of us really too much to ask until COVID-19 subsides?

We don’t believe so.

As things stand, they give our students and teachers the best chance for something like a normal year. No one wants another “lost season” like last spring.

No, neither masks nor social distancing can fully stop the virus. Our doctors and hospital and health officials have never, ever pretended that it will.

But if you encounter someone and one or both of you wear masks — preferably both — less COVID-19 will pass between you. And that does seem to matter.

So even where you don’t have to wear a mask, please, please wear one. Surely it’s the least we can do for each other.

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