Masking up still contentious

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Scientific studies have estimated that wearing a mask can reduce the spread of Covid-19 by 40 percent. There is a statewide mandate in Arkansas requiring people to wear a mask if they cannot achieve social distancing of at least six feet with people outside of their quarantine group. But masks can be hot and uncomfortable, and conspiracy theories have spread that wearing a mask is actually dangerous or a plot to control people.

Bri Cook, RN, Eureka Springs, asks if masks are dangerous, why is a surgeon trusted to perform very sensitive procedures with a mask on for a 12-hour shift?

“They can perform those procedures just fine with a mask on,” Cook, who wore masks for 12-hour shifts while working in an emergency room, said. “Obviously, masks are not unsafe. Nurses and doctors have been wearing them for a long time. Masks protect their patients. That’s the whole point.”

Cook has seen how serious Covid-19 can be, including causing death. One of her co-workers died of Covid-19. She said she gets frustrated at seeing people on social media who say Covid is a hoax or that its threat has been over-stated and it is no more dangerous than the flu.  

“They need to go spend a day in the emergency room or an ICU and they will quickly find out it is not a hoax,” Cook said.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, as of Sept. 28, 5,779 healthcare workers in Arkansas have tested positive for Covid-19, with 12 healthcare worker deaths.

Cook cautions that masks work best if everyone is wearing them. If you are wearing a cloth mask, it can help prevent you from catching Covid. But she said it works best if people you are exposed to with Covid wear the masks so that if they cough, the mask restrains their respiratory droplets.

“People can feel fine,” Cook said. “They don’t feel sick. But they could still be spreading Covid to others.”

While many customers in Eureka Springs are seen wearing masks inside stores, the Independent has had complaints from readers about customers and employees not wearing masks inside Walmart in Berryville and at Anderson’s near Hindsville.

Cook advises staying as far away as possible from other customers not wearing masks. She doesn’t feel comfortable going to stores where employees are not masking because they handle both items being scanned and money.

Carroll County resident Joy Bennett said she is upset that Wal-Mart is not enforcing its own policy that customers wear masks. Bennett calls the Covid-19 hotline (1 (800) 803-7847) and Walmart customer service (1 (800) 925-6278) each time she sees customers in Walmart not masking, and recommends others do, as well.

“Currently they are not even requesting at the door that people wear masks, and some customers are not,” Bennett said. “I’ve got three other friends who have been in there and experienced the same thing. Part of the comments I make when I call Walmart is that not only are they putting the general public at risk, but their associates, too. By and large, most people do have masks on. Walmart is allowing a few who don’t want to comply to put the rest of us at risk. They don’t have to let people shop at their store if they won’t wear them.”

A call to the Berryville Walmart and an email to national Walmart were not answered. Walmart does have a policy of not commenting on individual stores.

Bennett said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sounded an alarm about the rapidly rising number of new cases in Carroll County.

“Under the CDC guidelines, we should be under a stay-at-home order because of how rapidly cases here are increasing,” said Bennett, who works at a shop downtown where customers have been cooperative wearing masks. “In the past two weeks, we have had more than 100 new cases of Covid-19 in Carroll County. We must say, ‘Hey, this is a state mandate.’ I feel like if we don’t do anything, we are being complacent and allowing it to just continue.”

Citizen watchdog Crystal Ursin, who has been closely following the local Covid-19 statistics, suggests people consider grocery pickup at places like Walmart in Berryville. In Eureka Springs, Hart’s Family Center and the Eureka Market both offer curbside delivery.

“Curbside pickup is what I do,” Ursin said. “You drive up, open the trunk, they put the groceries in, and you drive off. There is no contact at all. It does work.”

Ursin said the mask mandate can be difficult for stores to enforce. Twice recently she went to Sam’s Club in Rogers and observed that people would put a mask on to enter the store, and then pull it down over their noses once they got past the entrance.

She feels bad for Walmart associates who can be confronted by enraged customers.

“I was at Walmart a month ago, and saw a man screaming foul language at the elderly associate because he told the customer he needed to put his mask on,” she said.

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