With the return to our schools after a much longer “break” than what we would’ve anticipated at the start of the year 2020, we are looking at new ways of learning.

I suspect our school year will look much different, at least to start. We will learn more this year simply due to the fact we are learning more in life at this time. We are learning how to live during a pandemic.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people learned during the 1918 pandemic. How did word spread about what was working to control the spread and what wasn’t? How did people learn about the loss of a loved one living in a different part of the world at that time? How did health-care workers learn about treatments that were helping?

These questions have definitely made me thankful that we live during a time that information sharing is so much easier.

By the time actual medical journals are released, those of us in the health-care realm have already learned some of the information with previews of research outcomes and “word on the street” from our colleagues that have firsthand experience with what’s happening.

This easy share of information is also a double-edged sword, and nothing makes that more obvious than a pandemic. People have information and access to a wide variety of opinions available at the tips of their fingers these days.

During a pandemic, this is not always helpful or beneficial, however. Where does this information source originate? Whose opinions are the ones that provide the most accurate portrayal of the correct information?

I can think of no other area of information, good and bad, at this time that tops the discussion surrounding masks. This ranges from a call for masks mandates worldwide by those that are the most convinced of their utility and benefit, to the misinformation that I have seen that masks cause us to have lower oxygen levels and buildup of carbon dioxide making them “unsafe.” They absolutely don’t by the way — surgeons performing highly sophisticated surgeries for hours on end wear masks without any troubles with these completely false claims.

The fact is, in the medical research today, there are more than 70 scientific articles that prove the safety of and benefit of masks during these unprecedented times. But science has been under the microscope for the past five-plus months to a degree that astonishes those of us that base our livelihood on scientific truths.

The fact is, we need to be discussing risk mitigation. Science definitely has a part in this, but so does humanism. We understand the basic principles of safety and we live by them every day, sometimes without even realizing it.

We teach our kids from a young age to look both ways before crossing the street. We don’t let our kids learn to climb the stairs without being right behind them in case they fall. When they are learning how to eat, we cut everything up into tiny pieces so they don’t choke, and feed them with forks that have rounded points to them, so they don’t accidentally hurt themselves with “real forks.” We emphasize the necessity of wearing a helmet when learning how to ride a bike. We teach them that smoking is bad for them, and the importance of a healthy diet. We strap them tight into a car seat, and keep them backward in the car for even longer now; science told us this was safer just a few short years ago.

How did we learn these things were the safe way to do things? Some of this was common sense; cars are bigger than a human, they win in a crash situation.

Most of this is science; cutting up grapes and hot dogs so they weren’t the perfect size of an esophagus, the head trauma associated with bike accidents can be prevented by wearing a helmet, car seats and seat belts absolutely save lives. These have evolved over the years to become better and safer. Everything we do has risks, yes, but we have the choice to do things safer. Risk mitigation is so important; seat belts, anti-lock brakes, air bags, no driving under the influence or while texting. Each part helps to reduce the risks we take every day.

Masks are evolving in this same way. Every day, we are learning through science about masks; how they should be worn, when they should be worn, what type of masks are best. One thing that is proven through all of this research is that masks protect our citizens from death. As parents and community members, we want to teach our youth about being selfless in their communities. Wearing masks demonstrates kindness to others; a lesson we want our children to learn and try to model on a regular basis.

This is all going to stem from our parenting and how we present it to them and role model healthy attitudes concerning it. If we explain to our children that wearing a mask is what we have to do right now to keep them safe, then they will adjust, just like wearing a seat belt.

Set this up as an act of kindness, which is what it is. Kids want to be kind and help others and they are also excited to be like adults. Explain to them how they are protecting their fellow classmates, teachers, family members, etc. Empower them with the joy that comes from helping others, and role model it.

We are in this together as a team. The sooner we all do this simple act as a societal and community “team,” the sooner we can be done with pandemonium. Ultimately, it will be a very short time in the span of our overall lives. There is no team like a small rural community when we all come together to care for each other. Thankfully, we have been somewhat protected from surge level numbers of coronavirus, but don’t mistake that for the thought that we don’t have it here. Sadly, Sioux County saw its first death last week, and there are regular transfers out to a higher level of care for affected individuals. We’ve had people on the long road of recovery that would likely attest to the fact this needs to be taken seriously.

Even a small surge in a rural community with few medical resources could quickly overwhelm the health-care system and has the potential to be devastating to small communities by sheer numbers and ratios. Everyone plays an important part of the small community, and in my opinion we are all irreplaceable. At this time, it’s not about how low our numbers are, it’s about how high they can get without masking.

When prevention works, nothing happens. We need to stop looking to return to our “normal.” We need to move forward and begin to establish a new normal that will help aid in the health and safety of our society, which in turn will allow for our economic health to improve as well. If we stop looking to return to the past, perhaps we can actually move forward. Wearing a mask is an unselfish and Christian act that can protect vulnerable people.

I cannot pick better terms to prove that if you value human life, you will protect it. This is such a small task. Masks are cheap, easy and safe. I’m happy to wear one 24/7 if in doing so will save just one person or myself from the negative impact of COVID-19.

Dr. LoriAnne Andersen of Sioux Center is a family physician at Sioux Center Health. She may be reached at lorianne.andersen@siouxcenterhealth.org.