Get behind the mask

On Thursday on the campus of Rutland Regional Medical Center, Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer, left, and Jody McIntosh, nurse and infection preventionist, display various face masks.

Rutland Regional Medical Center officials already were planning to urge residents to “Get Behind the Mask” when Gov. Phil Scott gave the campaign a push.

Staff members at Rutland Regional were about to unveil a campaign to promote the continued use of face masks and facial coverings, as well as other steps people can take to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease. While there had been some indications that the governor may issue a “mask mandate,” it was just a coincidence that Scott’s order takes effect this weekend as the Rutland hospital is taking “Get Behind the Mask” to the public.

There’s a reason medical professionals are encouraging people to continue wearing face masks, said Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer for Rutland Regional. He said Thursday that “masking has significantly reduced the transmission of the illness.

“In states or areas where it’s mandated, the risk of transmission does go down,” he said.

Vermont already has seen lower transmission rates, COVID cases and deaths than many other states.

An article published in The New York Times on Tuesday said 21 states have had recent COVID outbreaks so severe they were in the “red zone” and 28 states were in the “yellow zone” while only Vermont is in the “green zone.”

Hildebrant said Vermont’s success shouldn’t cause residents to give in to “mask fatigue” or assume COVID isn’t present in the Green Mountain State.

“There’s a lot of concerns about what could happen as time progresses, and we’ve seen outbreaks across the country with schools, with colleges, with any gatherings of people and we (Vermonters) have been relatively protected, but that’s in part because we’ve been doing a good job of social distancing, masking, those kind of things,” he said.

Hildebrant said some in the medical community were especially worried about New England states as fall and winter approach. Diseases spread when people are inside together in confined spaces. In the South, that can happen during the summer when people go inside to get relief from the heat in air conditioning, but in the North that can happen when temperatures drop and people go inside to a heated room.

Jody McIntosh, a nurse and an infection preventionist, said she has seen some encouraging signs that people are starting to understand the science.

“Some people might not necessarily believe in the mask use but understand the need to because the science behind it and they will do mask-wearing for different reasons like protecting children or family,” she said.

McIntosh said she hopes parents will take time to learn about masks as the school year nears. She said not all masks are the same, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending cloth masks that cover the wearer’s nose and mouth.

She said parents should consider factors such as having enough masks for their children so they don’t re-wear a mask on a daily basis and providing a spare in case the student’s mask gets dirty or torn.

McIntosh said families should remember there are other safety measures such as frequent and thorough hand-washing and social distancing.

Peg Bolgioni, Rutland Regional’s communications specialist, said “Get Behind the Mask” is designed to inform and educate the community using social media, local advertising, a banner that will be hung downtown and video messages.

Bolgioni said there are elements of the campaign that are being developed that either educate kids or provide material that parents and kids can go over together. She said “Get Behind the Mask” was expected to continue and change as needed.

“It’s a perennial campaign. It’s just going to keep going and going and going,” she said.

Decisions about wearing face masks have been highly politicized in recent weeks. Wearing a mask has been interpreted by some as a lack of faith in President Trump, who has been inconsistent and lukewarm about wearing face masks.

Hildebrant said “from what (he’s) read, a lot of it comes from a place of not understanding”

He said he would explain to someone who questions the use of face masks by saying they protect the community from any disease the wearer may be spreading, possibly without knowing or intent, rather than protecting the wearer.

“In my opinion, it says more about you as a person than anything else if you’re not willing to do something to help protect the people around you,” he said.

Hildebrant urged Rutlanders to accept wearing face masks because he said he doesn’t believe society is going back to where it was before COVID. He said a vaccine, even if it’s found quickly, would take more than a year to distribute and other diseases likely are to spread across the globe like COVID has.

“So this isn’t going away anytime soon, if ever. I think people need to realize, this is just the way things are now,” he said.

“Some time, a really long time ago, it was probably uncomfortable for human beings to walk around wearing pants. Nowadays, if someone is walking around without pants on, people are going to say things. We need to sort of get there with masks, OK?” he said.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com

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