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Uncomfortable and uncertain: The new normal while living through the COVID-19 pandemic

Hand holding homeade cloth masks
Vera Davidova
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a new executive order that makes mask-wearing mandatory in public spaces. It also requires businesses to refuse entry or service to people who refuse to wear a face covering.

Take precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus or risk a return to lockdown. That was the message from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun at a Thursday press conference. On Friday, Whitmer went a step further, signing a new executive order that makes mask-wearing mandatory in crowded public spaces. 

It also requires businesses to refuse entry or service to people who refuse to wear a face covering. Violations of the executive order could result in a fine of up to $500. Epidemiologists and public health officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of wearing masks throughout the pandemic.

Ryan Malosh is an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He says the evidence shows that masks pretty clearly reduce your risk of contracting or spreading the virus. What is harder to measure is exactly how much they reduce that risk. 

But the public health community shouldn’t be dismissive about people’s resistance to wearing masks, Malosh says. Wearing a mask really can make it harder to breathe and hold conversations.

“Wearing a mask is uncomfortable, right? And that’s something that we do have to get used to. Kind of downplaying the impact on people’s lives from wearing a mask is not something that we should be doing as public health professionals,” Malosh said.

Malosh cited a Harvard study that said without increased ICU capacity and without a vaccine, COVID-19 will remain a threat to public safety into 2021 or even 2022. This means wearing masks is something we will all have to get used to, according to Malosh.

“I think developing those [school] plans now, are not inappropriate,” said Malosh. “I think the caveat is that if the situation changes, the plan will have to change as well.”

The other thing we’ll need to adjust to is uncertainty. Take, for instance, the plans for opening schools.

Whitmer recently announced her guidelinesfor opening schools this fall along with a budget plan for the upcoming school year that uses $512 million in CARES Act funding to reimburse schools for COVID-related losses. But even as parents and school districts are making tentative plans for reopening this fall, Malosh says that we have to be willing to shift plans if coronavirus cases get too high.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are both pushing for a full re-opening of schools this fall. Shortly after the president's statement, Whitmer said that she will be taking her cue from data, not politics. 

“I want to make this clear — I will not send our kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it is safe to do so, plain and simple. I have made decisions based on science and facts to keep Michiganders safe since the beginning, and won’t stop now,” reads a tweet from Whitmer.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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