By Bernie Patterson, Chancellor

Face coverings are a powerful tool to help slow the spread of a virus that has disrupted our lives. Consider:

UWSP Chancellor Bernie Patterson
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.
  • Wearing masks can cut the incidence of cases by as much as 80 percent, based on research and scientific models in the United States and elsewhere.
  • One-third of those with confirmed COVID-19 in Portage County – like most of Wisconsin and many parts of the nation – are ages 20-29.
  • The CDC is predicting 30,000 more deaths by mid-August.

CDC Director Dr. Redfield said recently that if everyone in America wore a mask, washed hands frequently and practiced physical distancing, the spread of the coronavirus would be under control in one to two months.

One to two months! In less than a month, more than 8,000 students will begin the fall semester at UW-Stevens Point’s campuses in Stevens Point, Wausau and Marshfield.

As an institution, UW-Stevens Point is implementing numerous steps to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff members. As a community, we need to work together to ensure the health and safety of all our residents.

Our employees and students help drive the local economy, with an economic impact of $584.4 million annually in the Stevens Point area and $671 million on all three campuses. Our employees and students shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants. They volunteer to ensure our community thrives. And many of our students work in area businesses. Keeping them – and you – safe is a responsibility we must share.

Studies reported this summer – in NPR, Fox, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and others – provide further evidence that universal face coverings are effective. If everyone wore this protection for six or eight weeks and the virus was under control by October, we would have a greater chance of returning to the “normal” we all crave. That is good for our health and our economy.

In central Wisconsin and across the country, the number of COVID cases is rising. We thank businesses and organizations that have made safety a top priority by requiring face coverings.

UW-Stevens Point is requiring face coverings in all buildings and wherever physical distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained. I applaud Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order last week requiring face coverings statewide and encourage those who care about their community to follow the order. It will save lives. I strongly encourage local officials to require face coverings in their counties, cities and villages – if not now, certainly when the governor’s order expires Sept. 28.

At UW-Stevens Point, we are also:

  • Requiring daily symptom screening before coming to any UW-Stevens Point location
  • Encouraging physical distancing of 6 feet from others
  • Rearranging classrooms, labs and collaboration spaces to allow adequate distancing using a bubble diagram and a radius of 4.5 feet in most circumstances (the most conservative standard in the UW System). On average, classroom capacity has been reduced 70 percent to 80 percent 
  • Encouraging alternatives to in-person meetings of 10 or more people
  • Working remotely, when possible
  • Increasing cleaning and disinfecting
  • Placing sneeze shields in key service areas
  • Providing face coverings and refillable hand sanitizer to employees and students
  • Encouraging frequent, thorough hand washing
  • Requiring training for all employees and students

Wearing a face covering is the simplest, most effective way to slow the spread of this virus and move our society more quickly toward a healthier economy and a healthier population.

We all need to work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Won’t you join us in being part of the solution?

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.