We are entering a new phase in the fight against COVID-19. Across Europe, case numbers are reaching heights not seen since the initial wave last spring. In the U.S., half of all states are experiencing escalating case growth – especially in the Midwest, where states like Wisconsin and South Dakota are setting records. Nationwide, the U.S. is averaging about 45,000 confirmed new cases each day, a figure that doesn’t include scores of illnesses that continue to go untested and uncounted.
All of the early signs are there for something feared since the earliest days of this pandemic – a Second Wave coinciding with traditional flu season. CDC Director Robert Redfield has warned this fall and winter are “probably going to be one of the most difficult times that we have experienced in American public health.”
Why would elected officials choose now to ditch masks and facial coverings, the most effective protection we have against COVID-19?
Mistake to End Mask Mandates
Yet, abandoning masks is exactly what some communities are doing.
The Town of Gilbert allowed its mask requirement to expire in mid-July. Scottsdale and Lake Havasu City each repealed local mask orders in September, and a host of additional municipal ordinances are slated to expire in the coming weeks. Thankfully, Valley residents are still protected by a Maricopa County mask order – but it, too, is now under review as Supervisors debate whether the order should be amended or repealed.
Further repeal of mask mandates would be a terrible mistake with fatal consequences.
”Our Best Defense”
Nurses get it – masks are a pain. They’re hot, make your nose tickle and fog up your glasses. If you get annoyed wearing a facial covering for 20 minutes at the grocery store, think about the nurses wearing masks for the entirety of a 12-hour shift.
Nurses do it because masks protect us and our patients. Respiratory viruses like COVID-19 are predominantly spread via tiny aerosolized droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk. Along with keeping your distance, wearing a mask is the single best way to reduce these transmissions.
In fact, a new CDC report finds that masks played a critical role in getting Arizona’s summer outbreak of COVID-19 under control. Our state’s average daily cases increased 151% between the beginning and middle of June. On June 17, municipal and county officials began enacting mask mandates, which ultimately covered approximately 85% of all Arizonans. Additionally, the State of Arizona closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and similar large venues; limited dine-in capacity; and cracked down on public events.
Following these mitigation steps, the number of Arizona cases peaked just prior to Independence Day, stabilized and then fell precipitously – with daily infections declining 75% from July 13 – Aug. 7.
Bottom line: don’t listen to the unmaskers. “We have clear scientific evidence they work,” the CDC’s Dr. Redfield recently said of masks, “and they are our best defense.”
Masks Made a Critical Difference
Remember: Only a couple months ago Arizona was the epicenter of the pandemic. The world watched as our hospitals reached capacity, overloaded morgues began relying on refrigerated trucks, and nurses and physicians were stretched to the breaking point. ICU nurses are haunted by the last words of COVID-19 patients before being placed on a ventilator: “I don’t want to die.”
Too many Arizonans did. This experience will stay with Arizona nurses for a lifetime.
The summer implementation of strict mask mandates, along with the closure of bars and other safeguards, turned back the virus and saved countless lives. Due to these mitigation efforts, Arizona incidences of COVID-19, hospitalizations and other indicators have fallen dramatically.
The relative normalcy we now enjoy – schools and businesses re-opening, Sunday brunch, visits to the gym – is in large part thanks to universal mask-wearing.
What we’re doing is working, but that’s no sign we should let up now. Not with the virus rebounding in neighboring states like Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Not with the dual threat of flu season shortly upon us.
The Arizona Nurses Association urges the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and other local officials to keep mask orders in place.
Robin Schaeffer is Executive Director of the Arizona Nurses Association, Arizona’s largest and oldest membership organization representing the interests of over 95,000 registered nurses. She can be reached at Robin@aznurses.org or @Robin4AZnurses.