Masks Are Essential to Successful Reopening, Health Officials Say

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June 17, 2020 - 3:16pm

Health officials across the state are still urging residents to use cloth face coverings and masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. While health officials now know more about how the virus spreads, the public divide on whether face coverings are necessary has widened.

Early on, the World Health Organization advised only those in close contact with COVID-positive individuals needed to wear coverings, while the Centers for Disease Control initially recommended that everyone wear them. The WHO changed its stance in early June to reflect the impacts of asymptomatic transmission, and now recommends all people wear them.

Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour said Wednesdady that masks are vital to curbing the virus’s spread in the state, and will help the economy reopen as restrictions are loosened. She says countries that have required masks have seen a drastic drop in cases as they’ve reopened.

"We know the virus is spread when you talk, when you sing, when you shout," Pour said. "But if you do not know that you are asymptomatically positive, you may do those things, and you are exposing the person next to you who is not wearing a mask." 

With many businesses requiring masks upon reopening, health officials across the state are encouraging the same practices as large events resume and schools come back into session.

The spread of COVID-19 in the Nebraska panhandle has been minimal, with 220 confirmed cases across 12 counties. Panhandle Public Health District Director Kim Engel says she thinks western Nebraskans are taking the pandemic seriously. 

"I am disappointed that more people aren't wearing a face covering or a mask when they're out in public, and I think that's an area that we could really improve on," Engel said. "The virus is going to be with us for a considerably long time until a vaccination is found. So what we're telling people is we need to adopt new ways of behaving." 

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel said the district’s in-person graduation ceremonies in July will follow health department guidance, which includes mandatory masks. 

"In order to be able to do this, we’ve been working with the health department, and face coverings are going to be required of all students and staff," Joel said Tuesday. 

LPS announced Tuesday that masks may also be part of the district’s reopening plan if a moderate risk of COVID-19 still exists in the community.

The district is testing a program of synchronous learning, which means students can continue remote learning from home if their families choose. 

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