By Cynthia Dalsing
I take issue with Steven Bradshaw, Bonner County commissioner, after his recent diatribe against a public mask mandate by the Panhandle Health Department [News, “Education, not enforcement,” Nov. 25, 2020], in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. What an embarrassment he is to our town and community government.
Mr. Bradshaw wants to decrease the Panhandle Health Department budget from a little more than $250,000 to $1 to “make a statement.” County commissioners are responsible for providing administrative services to Bonner County — a direct job description from the county website — not to make “statements,” especially as a response to our public health department trying to save human life by slowing the spread of a pandemic disease.
It appears Mr. Bradshaw believes himself a medical expert (despite no medical training), stating what we are currently experiencing is not a pandemic. The definition of a pandemic is “a worldwide spread of a new disease.” What are we experiencing with COVID-19 if not a pandemic; one that is stretching our health care resources and, most importantly, our health care workers, to their limits?
He describes breath as “the very essence of life … there is no human right more fundamental than the right to breathe.” Two of my children are frontline medical workers. Do they not also have “inalienable rights endorsed by our creator”? Do they not also have the right to breath as they care for our friends and neighbors who have fallen ill due to coronavirus?
Mr. Bradshaw’s “right” to not wear a mask does not supersede my children’s right to breathe. Indeed, theirs may be the first face he sees, if Mr. Bradshaw needs health care. Wearing a mask is a commitment to our community: to our family, friends and neighbors — a commitment to protect their “fundamental right to breathe” freely, not in a medically induced coma, being mechanically ventilated in an intensive care unit.
Who will help us coordinate a response to COVID-19 if the health department does not have funding? Is Mr. Bradshaw going to volunteer to triage patients when there are no more ventilators and still more sick people come to the doors of our hospitals?
Currently more than 91,000 people (twice the 2019 population of Bonner county) are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. alone. More than 1,000 doctors and nurses — equivalent to the entire study body at Sandpoint High School in the 2018-2019 school year — have died from COVID-19, contracted while taking care of patients with this serious viral illness. This number does not include the rest of the medical team and hospital staff involved with a COVID-19-positive patient: pharmacists, respiratory therapists, medical technicians and lab staff who have direct contact with COVID-19-positive patients.
I am also not counting custodial staff, ward clerks, EMTs and countless other essential personnel that keep our hospitals running safely.
When you see a picture of a patient who has COVID-19 in the media, have you noticed how many people are at the bedside? Easily five or more. These acutely ill patients require multiple providers, and those providers also have other patients who are relying on these same providers to be 100% present in their care. I guarantee you these health care providers are working 12+ hour shifts, many days in a row, with not enough time off between shifts.
These people have husbands, wives, children and parents they go home to. Many quarantine themselves away from family at home, to avoid exposing their own families. It is relatively easy to mobilize production of more ventilators and PPE. But what happens when there is no one to run those ventilators? Our force of experienced doctors, nurses, RTs and all the rest is finite.
You cannot quickly produce caring, experienced, dedicated health care professionals to take care of your loved ones.
The mask mandate is not an attack on any freedoms, it is an act of compassion and selflessness — something I guarantee Mr. Bradshaw’s creator knows a thing or two about, even if Mr. Bradshaw does not.
We need to unite, the way our ancestors have multiple times throughout history, when we have faced a crisis as a nation. Let’s keep our health care providers and frontline workers — not to mention our own friends and family — healthy. Wear a mask and do not defund the Panhandle Health Department.
Cynthia Dalsing, MSN/ARNP, serves as District 1 representative of the Nurse Practitioners of Idaho.
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