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Dave Skoloda: No time for nonsense over masks

Dave Skoloda: No time for nonsense over masks

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Five chickadees perched nearby in a tangle of vibernum shrub as I filled the tube feeder on a bitterly cold winter morning. They chattered among themselves and flitted impatiently between the shrub and a nearby maple tree branch.

Once the feeder dangled again from the shepherd’s hook, one lit on top of the hook briefly, glared at me with its shining black eye and flew off. Another swept in, banked and fluttered away. I backed up a step and waited, enjoying the comic flurry of chatter and acrobatic flight of these charming little black-capped characters, my favorite winter birds.

Then it occurred to me that on this sub-zero-degree morning, they needed to stoke their energy needs with sunflower seeds; they didn’t have time to entertain.

I had learned recently chickadees must find hundeds of food sources each day to survive in the cold. David George Haskell in his book “The Forest Unseen” notes that a chickadee needs up to 65,000 joules (a unit of energy) each day. A black sunflower seed contains 1,000 joules, compared with a comma-sized spider, one joule, and a spider the size of a capital letter, 100 joules, according to Haskell. So it’s no wonder, the chickadees were adamant about securing a place at the feeder before the English sparrows arrived.

My pleasure in watching them by staying close to the feeder was costing them time, perhaps endangering their lives. So I respected their need for self preservation and walked away.

Speaking of respecting the well-being of others, it’s no wonder, then, that as I walked away I thought of the Wisconsin Legislature and the tiresome effort of the Republican majority to eliminate the governor’s mask mandate. Gov. Evers ordered it as part of the emergency effort to control the spread of COVID-19 — a mandate meant to protect people and save lives.

The Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards and the Wisconsin Public Health Association said in a joint statement, “We’ve said it before: masking is not a partisan political issue; it is a public health necessity. The science is settled and masks work. In combination with social distancing and regular handwashing, wearing a mask is an essential tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

Never mind that. Never mind protecting the vulnerable. Never mind the outpouring of insistence by hospital leaders, churches, doctors, emergency medical workers, pharmacists, small-business owners and and public health officials that mask wearing is essential for controlling the spread. It’s especially important with the warning of a rapidly spreading B.1.1.7 variant Feb. 7 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The State Senate voted Jan. 26 to overrule the mandate and sent the bill to the Assembly. The Assembly was about to vote when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out that without the mandate the state could lose up to $50 million a month in federal aid. Now the Assembly, after a delay, has voted for the repeal and the governor has reissued the mandate.

Meanwhile, the last we knew, wearing a mask is still the best thing we can all do to prevent the spread of the disease — to protect ourselves and to protect others as we wait for the vaccine to provide immunity.

So the heavy breathing will continue in Madison over the issue of whether the governor has the power to issue more than one mandate and they’ve been haggling about it for months when a simple vote by the Legislature in support of a mandate would take care of the matter. The Republicans seemingly can’t get enough of this issue, saying it’s not about masks, but about the governor’s lack of say on the issue. Do they think it makes the governor look bad for his persistence on this essential prevention protocol? Is there really a political gain to be had in this? Legislative behavior that would be laughable if it weren’t so serious seems likely to draw bad reviews rather than raves.

We have months to go when we still need to wear masks. Going without is threatening someone else’s well-being as surely as my bad behavior was putting at risk my favorite winter bird. Chickadees don’t have time for nonsense. Neither do Wisconsin citizens.

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