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GUEST

GUEST COLUMN: Be a good neighbor, wear a mask in public

Carolyn Ketchel
Guest Columnist
Northwest Florida Daily News

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Politics and health care, historically, are not the easiest subjects to discuss with friends and family alike. But here we are, with 130,000 Americans dead in just a few months, facing perhaps the greatest health crisis of our lifetimes.

Given this rising death toll, we must ask ourselves now how best we can prevent this spread in our community.

I have heard from many of you. Each feels strongly about their stated positions as it relates to the use of masks. I do not believe that Okaloosa County will mandate the use of masks, but I also believe that each of us, acting with reason and common sense, can make the best decisions that affect the common health of our community.

Unfortunately, from the beginning we have received inconsistent guidance from federal bureaucrats and health care experts. Especially at the beginning, they were as much in the dark about how to combat this virus as any of us. But where do our leaders stand on the issues of wearing a mask today?

Speaking on Fox News just last week, President Trump said: "I'm all for masks." When asked whether he would wear one, the president said: "If I were in a tight situation with people I would, absolutely." He later added that he also wears a mask when the situation warrants it.

That sounds like common sense to me.

Vice President Pence? He stated recently that "We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas. Where you can't maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, especially young people."

Well, that’s just it. With COVID-19 cases surging in Florida, our state is now squarely an “affected area.” And now, our duty according to President Trump and Vice President Pence, is to start wearing masks. Not for ourselves, but for our fellow countrymen who may be elderly or have an underlying disease that could place them at grave risk if they contract COVID-19.

This is a tough virus. It continues to mutate, and there is much we do not know about it. Even our foremost experts continue to shift guidance on how to best combat it.

But what we do know for certain is that COVID-19 is highly contagious. We have had 10 deaths in Okaloosa County and the infection rate continues to climb. The concern is that too many infected at once will overwhelm our local health care system.

Unlike the early days of the virus, we now have the advantage of knowing some of the ways that are effective at combating it. And one of those things, according to President Trump and Vice President Pence, not to mention every health expert and doctor with any credibility, is to wear a mask while in crowded areas.

I’m writing today to ask you to seriously consider wearing a mask when you are out in the public, for your own protection and those of others.

Although the county is not ordering anyone to wear a mask based on a government mandate, I am pleading with you as a fellow citizen in a free society, to use common sense and reason. Wear a mask to help protect the most vulnerable among us.

We are a patriotic community. Cases are similarly increasing among our base personnel and this is impacting the mission. It is also affecting contractors who can utilize our bases. Those defending our country cannot stop their mission to protect themselves and their families.

Acting individually, we can make a difference for the residents of Okaloosa County, whether your neighbor is an airman or an elderly citizen.

The vast majority of people who actually catch this disease will survive and be just fine. But this is about the small percentage of those in our community who are vulnerable.

So on their behalf I urge you to make this short-term sacrifice for the good of all your neighbors in Okaloosa County.

Carolyn Ketchel is the vice chairman of the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners and a licensed clinical medical social worker.