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Good decisions?

What’s more dangerous? Guns? Or a virus? This past week, local school boards pretty much said guns. Over the past two years, our school boards, facing a series of nationally publicized, horrific school shootings, installed buzz-in systems at school buildings, put cameras in every hallway, trained staff in lockdowns and, generally, walled off students from their home communities.

These same school boards, challenged with a COVID-19 pandemic, however, backed away from similarly dramatic steps at recent meetings. Instead, they opted for a return to normal. Even at schools where administrators recommended mostly distance education, school boards brushed aside fears and insisted on four or five day in-person instruction (with a virtual option available).

Were these decisions rational? Possibly, but possibly not. James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, counts 10 mass school shootings in the United States since 1999 with 81 people killed, including 64 students. That works out to three students a year. As of Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control reported 169,870 deaths due to COVID-19 this year and, of that number, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates 77 deaths of coronavirus deaths among children and teens. The youth deaths are a rare occurrence among an estimated 1.9 million pediatric cases of COVID-19, but over 25 times the incidence of school mass shooting deaths.

We don’t know whether local school boards made the right decision in having in-person schooling, but we will all find out soon enough. School starts on Sept. 1.

Our hope is that school boards over the next couple of months will park their emotions and politics by the board room door, keep abreast of COVID-19 infections in their schools and, following science and the facts, critically review their decision to open school with mostly in-person instruction.

The health of western Marathon County is in their hands.

Maybe you wear a mask because the Center for Disease Control recommends that you do. Maybe you wear a mask because Gov. Tony Evers has ordered you to do so. Maybe you wear a mask because you think it is the right thing to do.

Whatever your reason, we thank you.

In putting on that mask, you are doing your part to end the scourge of COVID-19 across our county, state and nation. Indeed, the world.

The mask divides people, but it shouldn’t. It is a reasonable sacrifice we all can make to minimize the spread of COVID-19 short of an economically calamitous lockdown. Scientists report in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences that while surgical masks filter out 89 percent of atomized exhaled particles, masks made out of commonly available household materials can stop between 49 and 86 percent of the same particles. A cotton mask, the scientists continue, blocks 96 percent of the viral load of a patient with COVID-19 at a distance of eight inches. This is important because every 10-fold increase in viral load results in 26 percent more coronavirus patient deaths. Other scientists publishing in ResearchGate report that countries with long-held customs of wearing masks to prevent illness had one-seventh the rate of COVID-19 infections than other countries where people don’t normally wear masks. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that 33,000 American lives could be saved by Oct. 1 from COVID-19, including 1,000 in Wisconsin, if 95 percent of the population wears a mask.

The argument against wearing a mask is that it is socialism. That’s poor reasoning. The federal government alone has spent trillions of dollars in deficit spending to try and right a capsized, virus-wrecked economy. Only when the country defeats COVID-19 will this “socialism” stop. Masks will be needed to end COVID-19.

Wearing a mask is uncomfortable, awkward and not stylish. All the same, it’s something we need to do, something we must do.

Your mask can be white, blue, green or Bucky Badger red. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you wear a mask while indoors in public. Thank you for doing so.