Alexander: Let’s Keep Mask Mandates — at Least in Restaurants

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Valeria Ferraro / Echoes WIre

A tourist wears a protective mask at Biffi Restaurant in Galleria Vittorio, Milan, amid coronavirus fears. (Photo by Valeria Ferraro | Courtesy Getty Images)

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Writer

 

Utah lifted the statewide mask mandate on April 10, and as a server at an Ogden restaurant, I am less than thrilled. For one, I’m not vaccinated yet, and neither are the majority of my coworkers. I feel incredibly unsafe going to work without the mandate, and it scares me that my life is on the line just to uphold one of Utah’s many small businesses. Utah’s local economy relies on these businesses’ staying open. And given that masks work and have been working for the past year, it’s terrifying that state leaders would lift the mandate without the approval of health experts. Especially since restaurants are hotspots for spreading the virus, keeping the mask mandate in place is the best way to keep food service workers and customers safe.

One important reason to keep wearing masks in restaurants is the introduction of deadly new coronavirus variants. The UK variant, which is now the dominant strain in the United States, is more contagious, more common and more deadly than the original version of the virus. The new strain is concerning epidemiologists and health workers fighting the virus, illustrating the present need for vaccination and masks. It’s proof that we are not yet finished with the virus, and that we still need to be alert in combating this pandemic. Lifting the mask mandate right now, especially in restaurants where COVID-19 is much easier to contract, is not helping service workers or customers — or, down the line, their roommates, families and other close contacts. It’s putting us in more danger.

But Utah legislators apparently don’t believe that. As vaccinations are underway, the legislature seems to think we are close to the finish line of the pandemic, and that those who are high-risk have probably gotten their vaccines already. However, the decision to lift the mandate brings the risk of cases spiking and the pandemic raging on. Not even a majority of Utahns are vaccinated, which means we need to continue wearing masks to avoid catching the virus and mitigate case and death rates.

In my workplace specifically, only one of my coworkers is vaccinated. I have coworkers with auto-immune diseases and coworkers who live with their grandparents, and I live with my high-risk mother. Because I still don’t have the vaccine, I am unprotected without my mask. And continuing to allow others without masks to put myself, my coworkers and my family in harm’s way is insensible. Until everyone has the vaccine, continuation of the mask mandate is in Utahns’ best interest. To return to normalcy, we need to first beat the virus with mask mandates.

Luckily, many people agree with the use of masks. On Saturday, a majority of the customers I served wore their masks. My customers, like myself, believe in the use of masks and know that they work. And according to a recent poll, 44% of Utahns believe that the mask mandate should continue. Health experts and business owners alike are pleading with Utahns to continue wearing their masks. I am pleading with you to continue wearing your mask. So many Utahns are exposed to the virus daily because of their jobs and life circumstances. In order for our state to function, we need to work and go about our lives. But we can’t do that if our lives aren’t treated as essential. We need protection, and wearing masks is the sole way to protect each other right now.

I understand that masks are tiring and the pandemic is consuming our lives. But masks work. Dozens of studies show that mask wearing reduces the spread of COVID-19 and could even stop the pandemic. Because the vaccine rollout is slow and faces hiccups, we need to continue wearing and requiring masks, especially in restaurants and hotspots, until the entirety or majority of the staff is either vaccinated or open to the idea of discarding the mask mandate. Until then — for people who have no choice and have to work exposed, for people who are high risk and don’t have their vaccine, for our families, our friends, our coworkers and our classmates — please continue to wear a mask.

 

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@CamdenAlexande1