If you’ve been following City news lately, you’re aware that the Mask Mandate is up for renewal and will be decided tomorrow. I’ve been shouted at and defamed both for being too restrictive in my opinion and for not being restrictive enough. Mostly, it goes with the territory. Serving in government means that you were elected to make decisions and there is no possible way to please everyone. The truth is, it’s a lot of hard work followed by a lot of disappointment. You gather all the credible information that both sides have to offer. Then you listen to the experts and the passionate. Then you apply common sense, filter out everything that isn’t relevant and then you make a decision. In this case that decision is guaranteed to anger a significant number of people no matter what we decide.
The biggest difficulty in all of this is competing interests, and there are a lot of them. We’re fortunate to have three amazingly qualified people to give us advice. For all the criticism they’ve received, Dr. Adi Pour, Dr. Mark Rupp and Dr. Ali Khan are top-flight. They are as good at their jobs as anyone in the world. They are tasked with keeping people healthy and saving lives. It’s just that simple. Are they going to make mistakes in the constantly changing landscape of science, statistics and policy? There is no way to avoid it. I can’t type a sentence without making five flubs, but when they make one, it can cost lives. That’s a reality that they take very seriously and so do we. None of us wants the burden of having made a decision that costs the life of someone’s grandmother.
Wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands and even isolating are no guarantee that you won’t get sick or die. That’s just the nature of disease and of life, but all of those safety protocols help. The evidence is clear. How much or how little, on that the evidence is less clear, but when you’re trying to keep people alive, if you’re doing your job, you error on the side of caution – always.
Many presented testimonies last week that oppose the Mask Mandate. There was a lot of good information, and I found myself agreeing with much of it. Lockdowns, masks and all of the rest may not help all that much. There is solid science by reputable sources that supports that conclusion, but the biggest question we have to weigh is the competing interests I mentioned earlier. Our health professionals are focused on one thing – keeping people healthy. That is their singular purpose, but the Mayor and Council have a more complicated responsibility. We have to weigh the psychological, sociological, economic and even political impact of mandates on our citizens, against the most effective means of protecting them from the pandemic.
We are also quite aware that large swaths of our population are no longer taking this pandemic seriously. Large gatherings of college age kids who take no precautions whatsoever are routine these days. They know the potential harm to them personally is minimal. They also know they could carry the virus home to grandma and grandpa with potentially catastrophic consequences. They know the risks and as that age demographic has demonstrated for millennia, they don’t much care.
It is also true that the war against this pandemic has been encumbered by political opportunism. I guess it shouldn’t be a shock to any of us in our current state of temporal outrage, but it should not have been so. There once was a time when partisan foes were virtuous enough to call a truce during times that threated our collective welfare. Our forefathers and foremothers reasoned we were Americans first, and Republicans or Democrats somewhere down the line. Unfortunately, those times have passed, and our Covid response was not a collective spirit bent on victory but on divided forces trying to take advantage.
So, how do I vote? Businesses and schools are largely open, and although things are not back to normal, they are moving forward with anticipation. We have lost in excess of 2,000 Nebraskans to Covid, and though we are on the downside of a spike, we are only one month removed from the worst of it. In 1919, during the Spanish Flu outbreak in Omaha, restrictions were lifted on the downside of a spike, much like the situation we find ourselves now. Under pressure from business owners, the city reopened, and the numbers peaked to another spike.
I am well aware that wearing masks for another few months will be annoying. Wearing masks may not be that helpful in preventing the spread of the disease, and they definitely cause a host of problems for people and families. I’m also well aware that we are terribly divided as a society as to the best way forward. However, in the time we have left before vaccines gain control over the statistics, continuing to wear masks may help a little. It might make some of us feel a little safer or prevent someone’s grandmother from dying needlessly. But even if it all ends-up nothing but a useless gesture, is it really that much to ask to show a little consideration to your friends or neighbors who are fearful? Is it really that much to ask you to be polite to those who may not feel the same as you? I don’t think so.