Column: Enjoy the outdoors, but please wear a mask when indoors in public

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Here we go again.

Public health officials late Thursday strongly encouraged people in Chicago and the suburbs to once again wear masks indoors in public due to increased spread of COVID-19 variants.

State and local leaders reacted as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added Cook, Will and 13 other Illinois counties to a high community level of risk.

“Everyone should make sure they are up-to-date with vaccinations and booster shots,” Illinois Department of Public Health Acting Director Amaal Tokars said in a news release. “Wearing a mask in indoor public places and avoiding crowded indoor spaces as much as possible will also make a difference.”

No one wants to once again stock up on tightfitting masks and wear them as we enter stores, restaurants and other destinations. Masks are so abundant and available nowadays, many places are giving them away.

We would all like to be done with this pandemic, but nature has other ideas.

Since March 2020 we’ve had to roll with the changes and adapt as the situation has evolved. You can blame Democrats or Republicans, but politicizing the public health crisis won’t make it end any sooner.

For now, compliance with mask recommendations is voluntary. Some of us will remember we should wear masks only when we see others wearing them. No one should publicly criticize anyone else for wearing a mask.

People walk through the Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago May 24, 2022. Most attendees opted not to wear face masks. The expo was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Many people have compromised immune systems or other conditions that place them at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get sick with COVID-19. Other people are luckier and might only experience mild symptoms.

We know the risk of transmission is lower outdoors. We should be mindful that case counts are on the rise, but reassured that our hospitals have capacity at the moment to care for those who need treatment.

We should be able to safely participate in outdoor activities, though we should keep our distance from others when possible. Numerous communities, including Blue Island, Chicago Heights, Homewood, Oak Lawn, Orland Park and Tinley Park, are holding Memorial Day events Monday.

We are all free to individually assess risks and make choices about what is best for ourselves. Some may decide that after more than two years of isolating and other precautions, it is safe to return to cinemas, churches and other places where groups gather indoors.

Others may survey the same landscape and decide that now is not the right moment to resume optional indoor activities.

People are still dying because of COVID-19. As of Thursday, a seven-day average of 10 people in Illinois had died of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The disease has claimed the lives of more than a million Americans.

I wish we could all agree to work together and make it a priority to do our best to save lives. Death rates are relatively low now and have spiked sharply three times during this pandemic, in May 2020, December 2020 and January 2022.

No one is saying you have to wear a mask to enter a building. People are merely asking you to please think about the health and safety of others as you live your life.

The crowd gathers on Saturday morning in Breidert Green at the start of the 2017 Bluegrass on the Green Festival in Frankfort. (Susan DeMar Lafferty / Daily Southtown)

You should be fine enjoying some of the many outdoor events in the south and southwest suburbs this summer. Perhaps you’d like to visit Centennial Park Aquatic Center in Orland Park of one of the many other water parks in the region.

You ought to consider attending a concert at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. Maybe you’d like to catch a Windy City Thunderbolts minor league baseball game at Ozinga Field in Crestwood. Check their calendar for fireworks, Star Wars Night and other fun events.

Shop at farmers markets in Evergreen Park, Palos Heights, Park Forest or many other communities. Visit the free 10th Annual Frankfort Bluegrass On The Green Festival July 9-10.

You could check out the fifth annual Chalk-It-Up! Aug 13 at Heritage Park in Homer Glen and see families, amateur and professional artists create colorful displays of sidewalk art.

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You can ride a bicycle or walk one of the many trails through parks or forest preserves in the region. Get a license and some gear and fish one of the many public lakes and waterways in the area.

You can make plans to golf, visit carnivals and festivals and enjoy a summer’s worth of fun with family and friends, all while being mindful that we are still in a pandemic and occasionally need to put masks on our faces when we go indoors.

It should be no big deal.

Yes, we temporarily should be extra careful to take steps to reduce the spread of a deadly disease because case counts are on the rise at the moment. No one knows how bad it will get, how long it will last or what measures we will need to take to protect ourselves when colder temperatures return in the fall.

We should live our lives and enjoy ourselves this weekend and all summer. We should remember Monday is a solemn holiday that honors those who died so that all Americans could enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.

tslowik@tribpub.com

via Chicago Tribune

May 27, 2022 at 04:44PM

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