July 3, 2020 10:34:20 AM
As local government leaders across the Golden Triangle weigh mask-wearing ordinances to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, area medical professionals differ on just how far those ordinances should go and how effective such requirements actually will be.
Columbus, Starkville and West Point, as well as the Oktibbeha County board of supervisors, will each consider requiring citizens to wear protective face masks next week as confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus are on the rise. Leaders in all three cities and counties told The Dispatch they value the perspectives of medical professionals when deciding how to vote on the issue.
"When it comes to making decisions about people's safety, I have to base that on expert opinions and data, the science and the medicine," Oktibbeha County District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said.
Ana Bonetti, a pulmonologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus, said all indoor public facilities should require visitors to wear masks "until a vaccine is developed or we have confirmed specific treatments that are effective against the virus."
However, Cameron Huxford, a pulmonologist and the Intensive Care Unit medical director at OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville, said he does not think wearing masks should be a government mandate.
He told the Starkville aldermen in May that most people who test positive for COVID-19 show few to no symptoms, and he repeated this in a Thursday interview with The Dispatch. Elderly people with underlying health issues are the population being admitted to OCH and dying of the illness, he said.
"I think when we focus just on positive cases, that's disingenuous to the full picture," he said.
He said the choice to wear a mask is a matter of personal responsibility, as is social distancing, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends more strongly than masks.
Huxford said he and other area physicians who share his view on the issue will speak up at Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting.
Starkville Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk agreed that wearing masks would be less necessary if everyone practiced social distancing, but people in Starkville have done less of both as time goes by, she said.
"Ideally we wouldn't have to pass any sort of resolution to get people to step up and (wear masks), but I don't think people are going to do that without a resolution," Sistrunk said.
Additionally, doctors on the state and national level -- including state health officer Thomas Dobbs and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci -- agree that masks effectively prevent the spread of the virus, and the OCH website recommends masks as well.
Cliff Story, the executive director of MSU's University Health Services, told The Dispatch that it would be safest for mask requirements to remain in place until the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the area stops increasing, which could take months.
"For the majority of people, wearing a mask is an easy thing to do," Story said. "It makes sense and it's common sense."
Amy Bogue, president of Allegro Family Clinics in Columbus, said policymakers need to walk the fine line between infringing upon people's rights and protecting their lives. However, she said, mask requirements can help save those who do not take the situation seriously.
"If most people are wearing masks, then the risk of you getting it is so much lower," she said. "You feel like it infringes on your rights to be an American, but I think (on) the other side, people are dying and getting this. We are trying to protect people as well."
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