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Masks are critical to reopening safely

By Harley Rouda

Local governments, small businesses, and families across the United States have been asking the same question for months, “how do we stay healthy without collapsing our economy?”

The answer? Face masks.

A recent study from researchers in California and Texas compared COVID-19 infection rate trends in Italy and New York before and after face masks were made mandatory. They found that mandatory mask orders prevented more than 78,000 infections in Italy and 66,000 in New York City.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, there has been constant conflicting information regarding treatments like hydroxychloroquine, duration of stay-athome orders, and the accuracy of COVID-19 tests. However, when it comes to face masks, the science is clear — they are one of the most effective tools to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Face masks — in addition to practicing good hygiene and maintaining critical elements of physical distancing — give the vast majority of us the freedom to safely return to our lives. They allow small business owners to keep their lights on and employees on their payroll. In Missouri, two hairstylists tested positive for COVID-19 after serving 140 clients while unknowingly contagious. Not a single customer contracted COVID- 19. How? They wore face masks.

Orange County’s battle against the coronavirus is far from won. This week, our county saw a record number of new COVID-19 infections. We surpassed 200 deaths, while hospitalization and ICU admittance rates spiked. By every metric — our community is racing towards higher and higher numbers as the spread of the coronavirus accelerates.

Members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, the law-making body tasked with creating and enforcing coronavirus policy for over 3 million residents, responded to these dangerous figures by sitting idly by as the Chief Medical Officer for the county faced death threats. Without public support from the Board, Dr.

Nichole Quick resigned, and the Board proceeded to overrule her mandatory mask rule. They put politics over the economy and public health. They chose expediency over strategy. They ignored and silenced science.

Slowing the spread of COVID- 19 cases is as simple as wearing masks when around other people. If we don’t, we risk accelerating community spread.

We risk seeing our hospitals exhaust their resources. We risk Orange County being forced to shelter at home...again.

The costs of the coronavirus are already astronomical.

Small business owners are on the precipice of bankruptcy. Orange County residents who are or have been hospitalized are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills. Frontline workers are risking exposing their families to COVID-19 to collect necessary paychecks and uphold their duty to treat infected patients. For those who have lost loved ones to COVID- 19, the pain is incalculable.

Mask requirements are safe, smart, and strategic policies. Especially during the coronavirus crisis, leaders should strive to use common-sense and prioritize cost-effective measures. Orange County residents deserve common-ground over capitulation and pragmatism over petty politics.

To the people of Orange County, California, and America — I encourage you to wear a mask and protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness across our great communities.

You have the power to keep your neighborhood healthy, help your local coffee shop survive, and keep us on the path to normalcy. It’s time to protect our nation’s health, economy, and way of life. It’s time to step up and lead. It’s time to do the right thing.

Harley Rouda represents California’s 48th congressional district.

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