Harvey County Medical Society, local physicians call on Newton to pass mask ordinance

By Harvey County Now Staff
On the eve of a vote by the Newton City Commission to require masks in some public and indoor places, the leading group of past and current physicians in Harvey County submitted a lengthy letter outlining the need for the ordinance and calling on commissioners to pass it to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and benefit public health.
Earlier this week, the County Commission voted on a similar manner, declining taking such actions and going against the advice of its health department director as well as chief medical officer.

The City Commission will vote on the matter at a special meeting held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the Meridian Center.
Here’s the letter in full:

Dear Newton City Commissioners,
We are writing to ask you to pass a city ordinance requiring masks or cloth face coverings in Newton for indoor public spaces and for outdoor public spaces when 6 feet of distancing cannot be maintained. The science is clear that masks can reduce the spread of COVID-19, the worst pandemic since 1918, and strong leadership is required to protect our citizens and our economy. As physicians in Harvey County, we ask that you pass this ordinance to protect our community and lower the number of our friends, family, and neighbors that will experience severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

As physicians, we respect science and data and always strive to use scientific evidence when we make decisions about protecting the health of our patients. While there were initially some conflicting recommendations about the utility of masks in the non-healthcare setting, we better understand how this disease is transmitted and a growing body of research demonstrates the immense value of wearing masks in public. While we appreciate the recommendations of masks from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States government, and our local governments, recommendations alone have not been effective and current mask use is low in many public spaces in Newton. We believe that a mask requirement in businesses and other public spaces will normalize mask wearing as we continue to battle this new disease for the upcoming months.

Why is wearing a mask so important? There are two main reasons why masks are needed and work to reduce the spread of COVID-19. First, COVID-19 is unusual in its ability to spread often from symptomless people. Any of us could feel perfectly fine and be spreading the disease, only to show symptoms 48 hours later. The ability of COVID-19 to spread from symptomless people is one reason the pandemic has become as severe as it has. If the virus only spread once people were ill, it would be much easier to isolate ill people and stop the spread. Wearing a mask when we otherwise feel fine can prevent us from being symptomless spreaders.

Second, we believe that the primary method of transmission for COVID-19 is through respiratory droplets. This is not that unusual and is a common way that many respiratory illnesses spread from person to person. However, this is a very important factor in why masks work. The original research on masks only focused on how a mask can protect the wearer and studied what type of material would prevent a very tiny virus particle from entering the mask that someone was wearing. This type of research is important for health care workers and we know that respirators, like N95 masks, can block 95% of those small particles. What the original research didn’t focus on was something called “source control.” This is studying the opposite effect – what can a mask do to prevent the wearer from spreading COVID-19 to others? This is the critical new research that is being published and is clear in its conclusions. Wearing a mask reduces the amount of respiratory droplets that the wearer spreads when breathing, talking, laughing, yelling, singing, coughing, or sneezing. Viruses use these droplets as a vehicle to spread to others and reducing droplet spread is one key to reducing COVID-19 in our communities.

There are dozens of studies that conclude wearing masks in public reduces the spread of COVID-19. Natural experiments show that countries or locations that require masks result in fewer cases of COVID-19 and many respiratory droplet studies show that spray of droplets is markedly reduced when a wearer is using a mask. We are happy to supply you with a copy of these scientific articles at your request. For a quick overview of the science behind using masks and cloth face coverings, please refer to the website https://masks4all.co. They state “Cloth masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19, save lives and restore jobs.” They also point out that “95% of the world lives in countries where the government and leading disease experts both agree that masks are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.” This website includes several important topics including:
1. Links to over 100 scientific articles on the use of masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
2. An excellent overview of the science behind masks that can be found at: https://masks4all.co/facts/
3. A list of the 21 states that require masks statewide and 25 other states that require them in at least
some settings.
4. A list of the over 100 countries that require masks.
5. A letter written by over 100 leading scientists calling for mask requirements. This letter makes a few key
points including:
a. People are most infectious in the initial period of infection, when it is common to have few or no
b. Cloth masks obstruct a high portion of the droplets from the mouth and nose that spread the
c. Non-medical masks have been effective in reducing transmission of coronavirus
d. Cloth masks can be washed in soapy water and re-used
e. Places and time periods where mask usage is required or widespread have been shown to
substantially lower community transmission
f. Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when the vast majority of
the public uses masks
g. Laws appear to be highly effective at increasing compliance and slowing or stopping the spread
of COVID-19.

We urge you to pass a city ordinance that will protect the Newton community during this COVID-19 pandemic. The time is now as cases in Harvey County have more than tripled in the last three weeks as activities have increased. Masks are a cheap and effective intervention that can keep businesses open and thriving, protect employees, and make our community safer so schools can hold in-person classes this fall. We do not believe that masks are any type of political statement, but rather a key public health tool (combined with hand washing, distancing, and staying home when you’re sick) to protect our communities from COVID-19. Wearing a mask is not about protecting yourself, but it’s about protecting each other and protecting Newton.
Thank you for your service to the community and we are available for any additional testimony or questions you may have about wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Working Group of the Harvey County Medical Society
Jennifer Scott Koontz, MD, MPH (HCMS President)

Troy Holdeman, MD
Doyle Detweiler, MD

Angel Teck, DO
Charles Craig, MD
Stephanie Gibson, MD

Alyssa Watkins, MD
Timothy Wiens, MD

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