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We must recognize our health care choices can affect others

I urge everyone on the school board, in the Ada community, and Hardin County to think beyond themselves to their neighbors, their churches, to the businesses in town, and to the surrounding community.

By Christine North
On this past Thursday evening, June 18, I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the freedoms we have in this country – the right to free speech. 

I and eight other engaged citizens from the Ada community spoke to the Ada School board regarding concerns related to the upcoming school year and measures which may or may not be in place regarding safeguards around COVID-19.

As I stated in the meeting, I teach at Ohio Northern and have my PhD in health communication and a Master’s degree in public health. I also serve as the President of the Patient Advocate Certification Board, an organization providing national certification for those who practice patient advocacy.

Patient Advocacy is about patient autonomy and informed decision making. The idea of patient advocacy is to help ensure patients and consumers have adequate information such that they are able to make their own decisions in conjunction with the health care system to advocate for their own personal wishes; health care is a collaborative process between patient and provider where the patient is an active and involved participant.

I very much stand up for people’s right to make choices for what is best for themselves.

At the same time, we must also recognize our health care choices can affect others. For the whole society to stay healthy, we need structure. Absolute freedom of the individual and the absence of government or rules is the definition of anarchy.  

When we lose sight of the greater good and we lose sense of the fact that “we are in this together,” then we do just that – we lose.  “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Nowhere in that statement from the Pledge of Allegiance does it stay we are better off if we do our own thing in the face of what is in the best interest of the whole community.

As I listened to impassioned pleas from various constituents regarding the safety procedures that need to be in place in Ada Schools in the fall, there were two points of view.  

One group was arguing that the concerns of teachers, janitors, cafeteria workers, family members of other children, community members, etc., should be taken into consideration.  The argument was about the larger community.  The other position focused on each family’s child and the impact of wearing a mask on “my child.” The first group wanted to know about how to prevent spread of illness to the community as a whole.

The arguments presented by the second group involved issues affecting their children’s experiences, such as concerns that face masks decrease the ability to read facial cues, increase the risk of hypoxia (breathing in too much carbon dioxide from wearing masks), and the impersonal nature of social distancing cause children to miss out on physical contact from teachers.

This June 6 article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (CLICK HERE FOR THE ARTICLE) clearly states that wearing masks is the most important mitigation action we can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There is no research indicating hypoxia is a serious risk to wearing masks. 

Indeed, sick children at St. Judes’ Children’s hospital live their lives in masks out of necessity.  They are far more vulnerable than our children, and yet wearing masks doesn’t seem to stop their ability to receive oxygen.  

Surgeons wear masks for grueling surgeries that last upwards of 8-10 hours at times.  And I certainly do hope they remained masked the entire time.

Face shields could be an alternative for parents who don’t want to use face masks because of inability to read facial cues, though they don’t trap air droplets as effectively as masks. Face shields are being made for extremely low cost and would resolve many issues if a mask is seen as an untenable option.

Lastly, the warmth of human touch is important—and necessary. According to statements shared Thursday evening, many children in elementary school rely on the hand on the back or the high five of the teacher as positive physical contact that they may not be getting in the home.

Having worked as a Guardian ad Litem for children from homes where there is abuse or neglect, I know that to be true. However, teachers and those in schools may not be comfortable engaging in such touch in the time of COVID-19. We need to come up with other alternative ways to connect with children.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I teach at the university. I have been teaching for over 20 years, and obtained my doctorate degree specifically so I could teach at a liberal arts school like Ohio Northern where I would be the one in the classroom with my undergraduate students rather than a graduate student teaching those students.

This is my passion. In March 2020, I returned from a trip to Costa Rica with a group of students, and at 9:00 on March 9, the first morning back after spring break, I was notified that our group had potentially been exposed to COVID-19 in the airport in Costa Rica. All of my classes were online from that point forward. I hated teaching online as much as my students hated learning that way. I missed the interactions and spontaneous discussions. What I loved about teaching was gone.

I am a high-risk person for COVID. If I get COVID, the chances of a bad outcome for me are great. This fall I will return to campus. But that will be MY choice, and that doesn’t mean my students are welcome to give me a hug, or come to my office and hang out, or even come to my class without a mask.  

If my students wish to be in my classroom, then they will wear a mask. Or they will need to go to another class. I have the right to protect myself, as well. Thankfully, the university has a policy that backs me up and limits the number of students in my classroom and requires students wear masks when in public.

We can’t have a healthy society without rules. If we all do what we want, we can bring guns and knives and drugs to schools. There are kids with no shoes. There are no rules in sports.  Why do we need rules at all? The issue is that some just don’t want to play by the rules.  We either have guidelines for the greater good or we don’t.  We have strong scientific evidence and recommendations for what makes reasonable sense.  

I welcome the opportunity to speak at greater length with the school board about the research regarding children, COVID-19, transmission, and the latest findings, many of which are being published on a daily basis.

I urge everyone on the school board, in the Ada community, and Hardin County to think beyond themselves to their neighbors, their churches, to the businesses in town, and to the surrounding community. Cases and death in Hardin County – indeed, in Ohio,– again are on the rise. We can do something about it!