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Area health care professionals stress the importance of wearing face masks

Physicians from Essentia Health, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and Lakewood Health System discuss the important role face masks play in keeping the Brainerd lakes area community safe, and in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and reducing the number of deaths from COVID-19.

People wear masks during Bean Hole Days Wednesday, July 15, in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Local physicians stressed the importance of wearing a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic at a virtual news conference last week.

Face mask use is the smartest and safest thing to do to protect the health and safety of others in the Brainerd lakes area, according to medical experts from across the region.

“We’re here to talk about the importance and effectiveness of wearing face masks to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Peter Henry, Essentia Health’s chief medical officer.

Dr. Robert Westin, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center’s chief medical officer, and Dr. Adrianne Moen, a Lakewood Health System family physician, also participated in the Wednesday, July 15, news conference as a growing number of major retailers institute a mask-wearing policy.


Dr. Rob Westin (top row, left), Cuyuna Regional Medical Center’s chief medical officer; Kathy Sell, Essentia Health marketing manager; Dr. Peter Henry, Essentia Health chief medical officer; and Dr. Adrianne Moen (bottom row), family medicine provider at Lakewood Health System, discuss face mask use and COVID-19 during a virtual news conference on Wednesday, July 15. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“The evidence is becoming quite significant that we know that, based on recent scientific and clinical studies, simple cloth face coverings if worn broadly and used appropriately have the potential to dramatically slow and spread the risk of COVID-19 and save thousands of lives,” Henry said.

In an editorial published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the latest science and affirmed cloth face coverings are a critical tool, particularly when used universally within communities. There is increasing evidence cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.

This review included two case studies, one showing adherence to universal masking policies reduced transmission within a Boston hospital system, and one showing wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection from two hair stylists to their customers in Missouri.

“The findings add to a growing body of evidence that cloth face coverings provide source control — that is, they help prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others,” the CDC stated. “The main protection individuals gain from masking occurs when others in their communities also wear face coverings.”

Increasing pressure for mask mandate

The Minnesota Department of Health reported Sunday the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 737 bringing the laboratory-confirmed case count in the state to 46,204.

“The Minnesota Department of Health reports that almost 8,000 cases statewide have no known source of infection,” Henry said. “That’s close to half of everyone with COVID is asymptomatic … which underscores the importance of wearing a mask, especially when you’re in public and in close proximity to others because you don’t know who does and who does not have COVID-19.”

The health department reported three new deaths Sunday, bringing the total number of deaths from the respiratory disease and its complications in Minnesota to 1,541.


Gerry Cornish (left), Evan Cornish, Gavin Cornish and TJ Cornish wear their masks while shopping Wednesday, July 8, in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“This is not rocket science,” Westin said. “We’re really doing it for the simple matter that it works, and so I just encourage everybody to carry that very simple message beyond just hearing it from us, but hearing it in your families and your communities.”

The Minnesota Hospital Association asked Gov. Tim Walz to impose a mask requirement Friday, joining the Minnesota Medical Association and 20 other medical societies in calling for state leaders to require the wearing of masks in all public indoor settings.

“I would reiterate the sentiment that, you know, wearing the mask isn't necessarily about you or your beliefs or anyone else. It’s really about protecting those that you love and care about and come in contact with from you,” Moen said.

More than 25 states have issued orders requiring the wearing of masks in public as the rate of new coronavirus cases explodes across many parts of the country.

“Masking has been shown time and time again in many, many studies that continue to come out that we can reduce the risk of transmission if we are all doing our part,” Moen said.

Lake Country Cares

Lake Country Cares is a community collaboration that includes area businesses to help ensure consistent, best practices in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as businesses continue to open.


“We were the first chamber in the state of Minnesota to call for the safe, responsible reopening of businesses statewide,” Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kilian said. “ … One of the precepts of that (Lake Country Cares) campaign is we were not going to advocate for businesses defying the executive orders or breaking the law … and that would continue with any type of state mandatory mask order.”

Home Depot, Target Corp. and CVS Health Corp. last week became the latest major retailers to require its customers to wear face masks while shopping at their stores in the United States. Walmart Inc., Kroger Co. and Kohls Corp. have also made the use of face masks a requirement for service.

“We could spend much of the time reviewing the data and the studies and scientific evidence, but masks make a difference. I think that’s the key message we want to convey,” Henry said.

In the United States, there have been more than 3.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 140,471 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

“By wearing a mask, you’re not making a political statement. You’re making a statement that says, ‘I care about others,’ because that’s really what masks do: they protect people who are around you. And if we all do our part by wearing masks … we can drastically lessen the threat of COVID-19 until the vaccine is available,” Henry said.

Divisive issue

Walz asked Republican legislators to help pass a statewide mask mandate through the Legislature in exchange for the loosening of other restrictions on businesses. Walz would lift capacity limits on gyms, salons and other businesses — but maintain restrictions for bars and restaurants — if Republicans assisted in passing a mask mandate. Kilian said the chamber’s position is not for advocating for a statewide mandatory masking order.

“Businesses shouldn’t bear the responsibility or the consequences of enforcing a state law, so if someone walks into an establishment and doesn’t have a mask, we don’t believe that businesses should be responsible for turning people away or refusing service or in any way policing such an order,” Kilian said.

Kilian said the governor should loosen restrictions on businesses if a statewide mask mandate is passed.


“If one comes down from the governor's office, we would be encouraging businesses to embrace and comply with that because the consequences of not doing so could create another round of business closure that would result in economic devastation that we’re not sure we could recover from,” Kilian said.

Henry said of wearing masks, “This issue shouldn’t divide us. It should unite us in a common cause to protect each other.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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