David Lias

Ed Sullivan will always go down in history for introducing The Beatles to an American audience in his popular Sunday night variety television show.

Before The Beatles, and for the run of the program afterwards, his program was also known for the potpourri of talent he presented each night.

I remember, while viewing the show as a kid, that one could rely on Topo Gigio, a lovable mouse puppet created by Italian puppeteer Maria Perengo, to make a frequent appearance.

Other popular singers and comedians would take the stage and some nights there would be acts that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else on television, such as literal circus performances with big cats and acrobats and magicians.

One frequent act that was in more of the circus genre featured individuals who had mastered the art of plate spinning in much the same way that a Harlem Globetrotter could spin a basketball on his finger. The plate spinner, however, would get up to about 10 plates spinning at once on flexible rods and, of course, we were all kept on the edge of our seats to see if the guy could keep all of the plates spinning without breaking one.

Plate spinning is what I kept envisioning during Monday’s meeting of the Vermillion School Board. The board has been handed an incredibly difficult task. They must tackle a myriad of issues -- to keep a lot of plates spinning simultaneously -- to devise the best plan for reopening Vermillion public schools in about a month’s time.

Monday night’s meeting lasted approximately three hours. This week we’ve focused primarily on the results of a survey sent to parents about a month ago that Doug Peterson, school board president, shared with the public. We’ll devote space next week for a story about various options discussed at the meeting by Superintendent Damon Alvey.

Peterson noted that about 11 percent of the parents who returned surveys thought that mask wearing should be a requirement of students, teachers and staff.

A little over 50 percent believed that students and staff should be encouraged to wear masks.

“The wording of that included encouraged because that is the wording that is coming down from the state of South Dakota,” Peterson said.

I know the school district is relying heavily on guidance from the South Dakota Department of Health and other state agencies as it works to keep all of the plates spinning while they devise a plan for fall.

I’m going to throw out this suggestion, purely as a layman. The wearing of masks should be more than just encouraged. They should be mandatory by everyone in every school building.

Masks work.

The United States could get the spread of the novel coronavirus “under control” within a matter of weeks if everyone wore face coverings, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Tuesday in a Washington Post report.

He said masks — which can act as a barrier for respiratory droplets that can be propelled into the air an infected person coughs, shouts or sneezes — are among the most effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Redfield said he was “saddened” that the wearing of masks has become politicized.

“I think if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control,” Redfield said.

I’m fairly certain the wearing of masks isn’t a political issue in the Vermillion School District. I realize that trying to keep a mask on the faces of fidgety children in younger grades could be a problem and that they offer challenges in other areas, such as band, vocal music, P.E., sports, school lunch. The list goes on.

Despite Gov. Kristi Noem’s strange pronouncement recently that everyone should just make up their own minds about wearing masks -- in a recent South Dakota Public Broadcasting Report she said, “There’s not good science using them or not using them. In fact, some of the studies people point to most often—some of them were promoted that were not even reliable data sets they were using,” I must voice disagreement with her assertions and encourage mask wearing.

The Mayo Clinic notes that face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.

Face masks weren’t recommended at the start of the pandemic because at that time, experts didn't know the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appeared, nor was it known that some people have COVID-19 but don't have any symptoms. Both groups can unknowingly spread the virus to others.

These discoveries led public health groups to do an about-face on face masks, according to the Mayo Clinic’s report and perhaps it is this change that the governor believes is somehow not “good science.”

She’s mistaken. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now include face masks in their recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus. The CDC recommends cloth face masks for the public and not the surgical and N95 masks that are needed by healthcare providers.

I have no experience in a classroom other than as a student; I can imagine, however, the challenges that may arise with mandatory mask wearing.

I hope the school board will do more than encourage mask wearing, however, as they keep a dozen other plates spinning at once. Even if they figure out ways to social distance students and drive home the importance of hand washing, masks are an important, in fact, a crucial part of keeping everyone safe as students return to class.

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