I’m alarmed, but not surprised, that unvaccinated Itasca County residents are at extremely high risk for COVID-19. Large groups of residents have voiced opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, often using offensive, intimidating, or threatening tactics. Their message defies overwhelming scientific evidence, undisputedly showing masks and vaccines work, mask mandates are effective, and schools with mask mandates are far less likely to suffer from outbreaks. That’s why medical and mental health professionals spoke at ISD 318’s September 7th meeting supporting mask mandates. While the opposition may be the loudest, I don’t believe they represent the majority.

As a parent and teacher, I’m concerned how the failure of IASC districts to implement and enforce mask mandates harms my child with special needs and a traumatic past. During the hybrid or distance learning modes last school year, my husband and I had to monitor our son’s schooling while simultaneously doing our jobs as teachers. It was, without exaggeration, traumatic for all of us. Without mask mandates, the likelihood of returning to these learning models increases, which is terrifying. Despite not fully understanding the consequences of children wearing masks during school, we know that social isolation and learning loss from hybrid and distance learning models brought severe negative consequences to children, with or without special needs. We are already seeing high absence rates for both staff and students, and IASC districts must act immediately or risk disruptions for in-person learning. For those with truly legitimate concerns over masks, schools can make accommodations.

Some are ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines because they are too young or have legitimate medical concerns. Their only line of defense is the entire community wearing masks. Although children are less likely to have severe COVID-19 symptoms, they still can spread it to those who aren’t. We’ve seen the unvaccinated overwhelmed hospitals throughout the country. Entire states have declared a crisis level of care, and hospitals in the region and the state are on the brink of doing the same, meaning less access for non-COVID-19 related cases and more medical staff quitting from burnout. Even if COVID-19 hospitalizations stop immediately, we’ll all be paying for it for a long time in the form of higher healthcare and insurance costs or reduced access to care as the financial burden of treating unvaccinated COVID-19 patients forces them to reduce services they offer or close altogether.

These facts are true regardless of what one believes. The “personal choices” not to wear a mask or get vaccinated are not “freedoms” because they clearly infringe on the freedoms of others who didn’t make those choices. People invoking their “freedoms” at the expense of others is actually the absence of freedom. Citing the American Flag or the Pledge of Allegiance to exploit these “freedoms” devoids these symbols of the ideas they represent. Let’s all honor the real meaning of these symbols and work together to beat this pandemic. Wearing a mask, and getting vaccinated if medically able is the only way we’ll ever be free from COVID-19.

Aron Schnaser

Bovey

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