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Health Official: Mask Mandate Opposite of Restriction

pexels.com Engin Akyurt

MADISON, Wis. -- Like many other parts of the country, Wisconsin residents now have to wear a mask when out in public as the pandemic continues. And one health official says viewing it as a conduit to getting back to normal could help with compliance.

Over the weekend, Wisconsin joined more than 30 other states requiring people wear face coverings when they are indoors or in enclosed spaces away from home. The mandate faces resistance from those who feel it amounts to government overreach.

Abe Jacob is chief quality officer with Minnesota's M-Health Fairview, which has clinics in western Wisconsin. He said people sometimes associate these mandates with shutdown orders from back in the spring.

But he said a mask rule should be looked at differently. "Really, wearing a mask is the way not to shut down," Jacob said. "I think we have to shift that mental model to thinking about the mask as the key to opening back up."

While most of Wisconsin's previous COVID restrictions were overturned in a court challenge, some are still in place, including those set by local governments. Jacobs said embracing masks can help pave the way to a fuller, faster reopening. Researchers say achieving 80% compliance can lead to a dramatic decline in the spread of the coronavirus.

Some Republicans in the Legislature have vowed to overturn Gov. Tony Evers' mandate, saying the decision to wear a mask should be left up to individuals.

Outside the political rhetoric surrounding the debate, Jacob said it's easy to see why some Americans might question the need to wear a mask in public. He said even though public polling indicates strong support for mask use, it's a practice this country might have a hard time getting used to. "It's a cultural change for us as a society," he said. "So, you could go into parts of Asia where they've been doing this since the first SARS outbreak several years ago, where wearing masks became just a part of how they lived their lives. And so for them, it wasn't as big of a change."

Wisconsin's mask rule applies to anyone age 5 or older, but does allow for some exemptions. In addition to resistance from Republican lawmakers, a number of Wisconsin sheriffs have refused to enforce the mandate.

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