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  • Last modified 32 days ago (Aug. 20, 2020)

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Old settlers would have worn masks

At a time when good news is hard to come by, we fortunately have some this week. Both in Marion County and statewide, evidence is mounting that raising public consciousness about face coverings is succeeding in slowing the spread of COVID.

In Marion County, after stay-at-home orders were lifted, the disease had been progressing at a rate of 0.14 new cases per day before county commissioners gave people the false impression that COVID had been beaten and refused to go along with a statewide mandate for masks.

Wearing masks isn’t about personal choice. Masks don’t protect the wearer. They protect everyone else. People have no inherent right to put others at risk by refusing to prevent them from being infected. This isn’t like requiring seat belts. It’s like prohibiting storage of toxic waste across the property line from your neighbor’s backyard.

The false notion commissioners created that it was time to return to normal led to an almost immediate spike in cases, with more than 10 times the number of new cases per day — 1.46, to be exact.

That continued until the city of Marion stepped in and ordered face coverings when social distancing was impossible. The order did not extend countywide and was far from universally obeyed, but the resulting increase in public awareness dramatically reduced the number of new cases per day.

As of midday Tuesday, that rate had fallen to just 0.52 — a third of what it was after the county’s misstep but still not back to the level before the county’s misguided action, taken over the objections of every medical expert they consulted.

Similar results have been found in scientific investigation of the effectiveness of mask mandates statewide, and these results have been independently confirmed by journalists at the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle.

Marion’s mandate will expire Monday. City officials would be well-advised to continue it.

The biggest mistake anyone makes in dealing with COVID is believing it has been brought under control. It has not. And it won’t be until a vaccine is developed. It remains just as easily spread, just as poorly understood, and just as potentially lethal among some of the most vulnerable in society.

We cannot afford to believe we’ve turned the corner and can safely relax precautions. So-called herd immunity isn’t coming, and we’re only now starting to learn that COVID can cause long-term problems — especially for young athletes — even if immediate symptoms are mild.

If we become complacent, the disease will come back as it has done in South Korea and New Zealand. To date, all of us have sacrificed mightily — and continue to sacrifice every day. Thinking things have changed when they have not is the surest way to make those sacrifices have been in vain.

We lament cancellation of Florence’s and Burdick’s Labor Days, Hillsboro’s Arts and Crafts Fair, Marion’s Art in the Park, and all Kiwanis-sponsored public events at Marion’s Old Settlers Day.

We understand the well-intentioned desire behind one business person’s attempt to announce unilaterally that Old Settlers Day still would go forward, without Kiwanis but with other, unidentified sponsors staging events, some of them quite similar to those Kiwanis courageously determined would not be safe.

Kiwanians weren’t, as the business person accidentally told a broad list of email recipients, behaving like “pussys” by canceling public aspects of the day. They were behaving like true patriots, temporarily sacrificing a time-honored event, near and dear to the community, for the greater good of that community.

Yes, some safe events might still be possible, as has happened in several of the communities that have canceled other regularly scheduled events. Whether they should go by the same name or have a different name, as happened with Bluegrass at the Lake, is a matter for the normal sponsors to determine. Precisely what those events should be is something that should be developed with the full involvement — in advance, not after the fact — of public health officials.

The city of Marion should make these conditions clear before granting permission for anyone to use city streets, sidewalks, parks, or employees for any Old Settlers Day replacement.

COVID-19 isn’t halting life as we know it. But it is forcing changes. Some businesses — Panda Kitchen in Hillsboro, for example — have masterfully adapted, turning what used to be a buffet into a carryout. Cruise events in both Hillsboro and Peabody also have been quite successful.

Willingness to adapt — not merely insistence on pushing ahead without changes — is essential. Businesses and events that adapt will succeed. Those unwilling or unable may fail.

Forgetting the parade, food, games, and ceremonies in Central Park, what makes Old Settlers Day what it is are class reunions. Reunions, much like breakfast coffee klatches at sit-down restaurants, will be particularly challenged. Distant alumni, particularly those of advanced age, may be reluctant to travel.

We at the newspaper would like to help by offering to print “virtual” reunions — news, notes, photos, anecdotes, and general “where are they now” updates about members of each class that graduated in a year ending in zero or five. We haven’t worked out the details, but if you represent any of those classes, please contact us at news@marionrecord.com to see what might be possible.

It’s time for all of us to stop lamenting what we’ve lost, stop trying to bull ahead and recriminate others as if COVID is some politically generated myth, and start focusing on what we can do — then do it. That sort of pioneering spirit always has been a hallmark of what it means to be an American, and it’s time we get back to the kind of attitudes that made America what it is today. That’s how our old settlers survived and thrived. It’s how we can, too.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 20, 2020

 

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