mask up

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Everyone is sick and tired of COVID - tired of hearing about it, tired of reading about it. It’s been coined “pandemic fatigue.” With the winter flu season upon us, Covid-19 cases spiking, and our local hospital being very busy already, now is not the time to let your guard down. Vaccines may be coming around the corner, but most people will not get the vaccine for several months.

There is a sense that everyone in Cavalier County is doing the right thing. When COVID numbers go up, people pull back, wear masks, and the numbers go back down, but that makes the argument that it’s okay for people to get sick in the first place before we respond to it. Some people object to wearing a mask for various reasons. Those feelings are real, but it doesn’t change the need to wear a mask right now.

“Masks lower the amount of possible viral exposure hopefully preventing infection,” said Public Health Nurse Steph Welsh. “Many factors go into COVID infection including the amount of virus exposed to, immune system function and underlying risk factors.”

Chief Nursing Officer Jamie Nienhuis at the Cavalier County Memorial Hospital says that it is vital to wear your mask properly and make sure it covers both your mouth and your nose. Pulling it down off your nose or up above your mouth does not help.

“I think it is important to remember that wearing a mask is just as much, if not more so, about protecting others than it is about protecting yourself,” said Welsh. “It is important we take those steps to protect those most at risk among our family, friends, neighbors and community members. Wearing a mask also helps lower spread and conserve healthcare capacity for not just COVID related illness but other medical needs.”

Following public health recommendations is a way to care about your community and the people around you. It helps you support the businesses in the community while reducing the risk to their employees’ and other customers’ health.

When you get into your car, you put on your seat belt. It’s the law, but we also know that in the event of a car accident, any injuries are likely to be less severe if a seat belt is worn. Knowing that and accepting that took some time when seat belt laws were introduced.

When a football player goes out on the field, he puts on a helmet. He can’t play without one. The helmet protects his head from serious head injury. It’s not even in question.

“While wearing a mask does not reduce your risk of spreading COVID to zero, it does significantly lower the likelihood of transmission, especially if all parties involved have masks on.”

There are people with COVID who don’t know they have it yet, who think they just have allergies or who don’t want to get tested and possibly quarantined. Those factors are minimized with universal mask wearing.

Two weeks ago Governor Burgum issued an executive order which included wearing masks in public places and restricting crowd size and open for business hours. At the time, North Dakota hospitals were at 92 percent capacity, North Dakota had the highest death rate from COVID in the world, winter flu season was here, and the holidays were coming. The Governor’s order has produced the intended results so far. Positivity rates and numbers of new cases have trended downward in the last week.

“It is important to note that hospitalizations and deaths typically lag behind high case numbers so the impact of higher rates in previous weeks is yet to be seen,” reminds Welsh. “We also need to keep in mind the results of holiday gatherings in infection rates will not be fully felt until 1-2 weeks following the event.” Many health care and government agencies will be watching closely to see how holiday gatherings impact COVID rates.

“I think it is important we remain vigilant in lowering COVID rates to maintain healthcare capacity and protect long term care this cold and flu season going forward,” said Welsh. Follow the already well-known recommendations: wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, and avoid indoor crowds.

“Get your flu shot now,” urges Nienhuis, “and then be ready to get your vaccine when it’s available.”


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