Deborah Gatrell: Anti-mask activists are consorting with the enemy

Whose children are we willing to sacrifice by refusing to fight the pandemic?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rebecca Olson of Highland, expresses her opposition to any possible future mask mandates in schools as she speaks to the Salt Lake County Council during a council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021.

I personally know one teenager dealing with the effects of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children —a disorder linked to COVID-19 — three adults who have died of COVID, at least six more who have been hospitalized and scores who have been ill — many seriously — so far. I am deeply disturbed by outrageous anti-mask protests and public comments as we prepare to return to school in a pandemic surge more severe than last fall, with Utah ICUs already at full staffed capacity.

The projections are alarming. One child under 12 will be hospitalized every other day as we return to school if we take no mitigating steps. Most will get better, some will have long-term health issues, and some will die.

Whose children are we willing to sacrifice? Which families should suffer?

We know layered prevention strategies work. We proved it last fall and largely avoided COVID outbreaks in our elementary schools. Vaccinations are the first, best line of defense, but our littles can’t have them yet. Masks are the second-best line of defense, but we cannot easily require them in schools because of legislative action in May.

Everything else — distancing, cohorts, hand washing — is good, but largely ineffective alone. We know how to keep schools open and students in them, but our elected leaders do not currently have the courage to require those strategies until everyone has a chance to be fully vaccinated.

As a veteran, if I were sent into combat knowing my unit refused to provide me the best available protection because some people found it inconvenient, I would certainly be upset. If people in my organization felt comfortable behaving irresponsibly, revealing our position to the enemy, I would be furious.

Well, I’m furious. This irresponsible attitude towards masks is no less dangerous than openly consorting with the enemy: COVID. It is inviting COVID to spread in our schools and go home to vulnerable family members.

It’s not enough to hope I won’t be stricken by bullets because most people aren’t. It’s not enough to know that I’ll probably recover if I am hit by shrapnel. Military pilots don’t just fly into hostile territory without careful planning, practiced tactics and all the prevention tools available. “Big sky, little bullet” is not a plan to come home safely.

What is “the Utah Way” here? Do we, as a community, really love our neighbors? Are we willing to care for the downtrodden, the weary, the weak – the elementary-aged children, the immunocompromised, the medically fragile, the poor who cannot bear outrageous medical bills? Those without COVID who will die because there is no room at the ICU? Or are we consumed by our own self-interest?

This is a matter of life and death for some in our community. We just don’t know who – yet.

I love my family, my neighbors, my friends and my students enough to bear the minor inconveniences of vaccination and a mask. If you care, too, and want our elected leaders to take responsible actions that will better protect our friends and neighbors in the community, please reach out. I will connect you with like-minded Utahns working to communicate our concerns.

Deborah Gatrell

Deborah Gatrell is a veteran with more than 20 years of military service and a social studies teacher in Granite School District. Reach out on Twitter: @DeborahGatrell1 or Facebook: @DeborahGatrellSLCo2