Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters while wearing a mask in Centennial on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

We continue to hear that masks save lives, and Gov. Jared Polis has not been shy in telling us to “wear your damn mask.” Let’s be clear: masks do save lives, and we should be wearing our “damn” masks. 

However,  we need to realize that no amount of social media posts or news conference statements substitute for actual directive and policy. 

As the United States falls behind the rest of the world in its fight against COVID-19, the science is clear that masks save lives and enable communities to begin recovering from the pandemic. 

State Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, outside Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver where he works as an ER nurse. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

A model out of the University of Washington shows that over 120 lives in Colorado will be saved by Oct. 1 if we have a 95% mask use rate. Every data point is a life lost, a family heartbroken and a community torn apart.

As an emergency room nurse who has been on the frontlines of this crisis in Denver and Cook County Jail, I have seen the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

Even before this pandemic, two of our best tools to protect our patients against infection were — and still are — handwashing and masks. For five weeks, I worked every single day for 12 hours a day in one of the hardest-hit areas in the country, and we relied on the best available science, which instructed us to wear masks and wash our hands, to protect the patients and ourselves.

These experiences affirm both the science and morality of following social distancing and mask protocols. Every patient intubated and every person fighting for their life in the ER is a painful reminder of the scientifically proven importance of mask-wearing.

READ: A lawmaker returns to frontlines of the coronavirus fight as an ER nurse: “You can see a tsunami coming”

Evidence shows that requiring masks reduces the rate of transmission. Now, we are only weeks away from sending our kids back to school without even minimal protections mandated to keep them safe, putting not only students at risk but also our teachers.

We all should be coming together to support our educators and school districts and doing everything we can to decrease community spread.

We need to work together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and the people around us whom we depend on the most. We have more than enough data and stories of loss.

We should be relying on the science of public health and not let politics get in the way now more than ever. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. We are living in a time when pseudoscience seems more prolific than actual science.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

If there’s a study showing masks aren’t effective or vaccines cause autism, as long as it’s on social media or Google, it’s often taken as fact. I can speak from my personal experience of fighting this anti-science rhetoric as the sponsor of pro-vaccine legislation for the past two years at the Capitol.

As a state, we should be thanking leadership in both the House and the Senate for ensuring legislation was passed to improve our last-in-the-country immunization rates. They didn’t let politics get in the way of passing sound, evidence-based policy that made our communities safer.

Unfortunately, too many communities are not showing this leadership in response to COVID-19 and are rejecting the science around masks. As elected officials politicize masks and challenge public health experts in order to please their base, they jeopardize their communities.

While some jurisdictions adopt mask mandates, others actively undermine mask-wearing. In some states including Colorado, these political antics have cost communities critical expertise and experience as public health workers have resigned after being harassed, bullied and threatened — just when we need them most.

These public servants dedicate their lives to making our communities safer and yet they face violent threats over something as simple as wearing a mask. 

We need pro-science leadership from Gov. Polis during this critical time.  Instead of putting the burden on our counties and cities to address mask orders and piecemealing it together, we need consistent guidelines and directive from the state level.  

Gov. Polis deserves credit for his role in limiting the spread of the virus in our state thus far, but with cases rising again, now is not the time to let the foot off of the pedal. 

Now is the time to show proactive leadership and institute a statewide mask order. Now is the time that we rely on science; the safety of our state depends on it.

Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, is a nurse and a Colorado state representative in House District 34.

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