If you like reading fiction, or, perhaps, fantasy, you might enjoy the next four paragraphs.
The Maquoketa City Council on Monday enthusiastically threw its influence behind a community effort to encourage residents to wear masks in public and follow advice from our country’s top medical experts as a way to combat local spread of the deadly coronavirus.
“We have been fortunate so far,” said Maquoketa Mayor Don Schwenker, “but given the fact that more than 160,000 Americans have already died from the virus, we have to take it seriously, and everyone needs to do their part.”
City leaders made the decision to endorse a social media marketing effort that would feature well-known residents and community leaders wearing face masks while explaining why they feel it’s the right thing to do.
“While we are not sure if we have the authority to force anyone to wear a mask, we feel that, as community leaders, it is our responsibility to set a good example and do everything we can to keep our community safe,” said councilman Josh Collister.
That all sounds so reasonable that it’s hard to believe those italicized words above are not true. Unfortunately, they are, indeed, fiction.
The words our city’s mayor and two other councilmen actually spoke struck a blow not for our community’s health and wellbeing, but for ignorance, irresponsibility and selfish behavior.
Councilwoman Erica Barker did not ask her fellow council members for much. She offered them, through the request of only an endorsement, an easy way to support an effort to encourage residents to wear face masks in public at a time when nearly every credible medical expert in the world is advocating exactly that.
It should be noted that Barker didn’t make a motion for the council to mandate the use of face masks or face shields, as local leaders in other parts of the state have more boldly done. She did not try to pick a fight with our governor over her insistence that local governments, including school districts, can’t make decisions for themselves. Barker’s request didn’t go nearly that far.
She merely suggested that members of the council give their personal endorsement to a potentially lifesaving effort – an effort that would cost none of them anything and harm no one.
Councilwoman Jessica Kean joined Barker in openly supporting the idea while the mayor, Collister and Kevin Kuhlman voiced objections that crossed the line into absurdity.
Schwenker disclosed that he does not wear a mask in public unless it is required by a business or requested by someone in his presence and said the issue of masks has “been beat on so much that it’s turning people off.”
He also made an off-point counterargument about his dislike of people wearing masks while driving.
“I get nervous seeing people wearing masks while they are driving,” Schwenker said, drawing laughter from Kuhlman. “I would like that to be illegal because people are distracted enough let alone half blind because of a mask.”
Too bad that quote isn’t fiction.
Perhaps someone should kindly show Schwenker the proper way to wear a mask and point out that while the coronavirus has killed enough Americans to populate Maquoketa 32 times, none, as far as we know, have died because of being blinded by masks.
Kuhlman based his opposition on his personal dislike of wearing a mask, and by arguing, incorrectly, that the state and federal government have not encouraged the use of masks. While state and federal officials have not mandated the use of masks, they have most certainly advocated for it.
Kuhlman must have slept through the past five months, and he certainly was not paying attention last week when none other than Admiral Brett Giror, one of President Donald Trump’s top health care officials, pleaded with Americans to wear masks, explaining that if 90% of people wore masks in public and avoided large crowds, it would “give you the same outcome as a complete shutdown” without all the economic pain of an actual shutdown.
In other words, if you want businesses and schools to stay open until an effective coronavirus vaccine is available, put on a mask.
Collister, for his part, said wearing a mask boils down to a matter of opinion, which also broadly misses the point of why the city should at the very least recommend residents wear masks in public.
How many people have to die and how close to home do they have to be for them to get it?
The good news is that Barker said she and Kean plan to give the city another chance to put itself on the right side of this issue. The topic will be on the agenda for the council’s Aug. 17 meeting at 6 p.m., which can be viewed live online at https://zoom.us/j/2012225304 or later by going to the city’s website at maquoketaia.com. Residents can also listen to the meeting via phone by dialing 312-626-6799.
We can only hope that with the possible support of the council members who have yet to disclose their position, our city government will rally to the cause of wearing masks in public, provide residents with the leadership they deserve and put itself, in this small way, on the correct side of history.