Last week, I got married in front of 8 people in a large room with plenty of space to spread out. I wanted a wedding, but the last thing I wanted was for the people I love to get COVID-19. My daughter walked me down the aisle. As we walked, I couldn’t help thinking: I wish my mom and dad were here. But it wasn’t the right thing to do.
My dad contracted COVID around Christmas time. And while my mom tested negative for the virus, she still showed symptoms. When we spoke on the phone, my dad had trouble breathing and couldn’t finish sentences. He slept for days and his fever spiked to 101 degrees. I worried that he might get pneumonia and end up needing hospital care.
So how did my dad get COVID?
Days before Christmas, someone came to the door to look at doing some work for them. That person wasn’t wearing a mask and tested positive for COVID.
Why am I telling you this?
Because no matter what state Legislators say about mask mandates being an overreach and putting quotation marks around the word emergency, it’s flat out irresponsible to characterize what is happening in any other way. The percentage of positive cases among those tested is averaging over 25 percent. Is that a decrease? Yes. And it’s also true that Racine County’s case rate is still considered very high. The previous statement is not my opinion. It’s how the county is characterizing the current state of things.
It’s wrong to not acknowledge that this public health emergency exists. Every health professional I have ever spoken to has told me that the rate should be 1 percent or less to consider the disease under control. We aren’t there yet. And we need to do the work to make that happen.
To be clear, I understand that wearing a mask isn’t the only tool we have. But it’s also one thing that we can do to manage some sort of normalcy in conducting business during this public health crisis.
It’s wrong to give the illusion that masks don’t play a role in only a handful of tools we have to prevent this virus’s spread. It’s a slap in the face of health professionals trying to fight this virus with limited resources. It’s a slap in the face to businesses who have to grapple with losing staff due to illnesses. And it’s a slap in the face to people who have lost their jobs due to COVID.
Look, we are not out of the woods until we have vaccinated more people. We need to remember what this disease has taken from us: Our loved ones, our children’s education, our businesses, our jobs, our colleagues, and most of all, our health.
When my dad talks, I hear the fear in his voice. And he’s a tough guy who served in the Navy.
Only a few days ago, I told him: don’t be a cowboy on this. Don’t try to tough it out. And there’s only a small window of time that you have where that’s a treatment option. His pulse-oximeter, a gadget that measures oxygen saturation level, read 91 percent. Typically, more than 89 percent of your blood should be carrying oxygen. And having a level of 91 was a sign that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his organs. He still never went to the hospital. But so far, so good.
To be fair, my dad is a pro-mask guy, even when it was unpopular to be a Republican and take the disease seriously. He’s the guy in the store wearing a mask that says: “No mask: Your breath is killing me.” He hands out masks to his friends, even though many thought COVID was a hoax. He totes around hand sanitizer and keeps his distance. A former EMT, he knew how important it was to keep my mom from getting sick because she struggles with diabetes, kidney failure and heart issues. They are both in their 70s.
I know this stuff not because I am a medical professional but because I have written numerous stories about COVID. I have interviewed the president and the head of the infectious disease clinic at the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, public health officials and doctors, people who have watched their family members die and those who have survived COVID.
And it is deeply disturbing to me that politics is preferred over human life.
I want to see Republicans separate the mask mandate from other COVID-related legislation, be effective leaders. Acknowledge the progress we are making and understand that we are not out of the woods here. We do not have time for political positioning. Mask wearing right now is essential to slowing the spread of COVID. And it doesn’t work when people don’t commit to doing the right thing. Period.