As Covid-19 cases rise in my Northern Michigan community of Petoskey, so does the resentment toward Governor Whitmer’s executive order requiring face coverings within indoor public places and crowded outdoor spaces. As a nurse, I empathize with these feelings.
Jennifer Attie is a family nurse practitioner in Petoskey.
Nobody wants to be told what to do, especially when it comes to changing a behavior. However, to be clear, I fully support this executive order because I know that changing this behavior will save lives. So how do we assist individuals to accept that wearing a face covering is necessary without them feeling forced to implement this change?
Throughout my nursing career, I have worked alongside individuals in various settings to assist them with behavioral changes that could improve their health. I continuously rely on different theories that reflect best practice for behavioral change. Please note: these theories do not include shaming people or calling them out on their behaviors in public or on social media.
Most of these approaches involve the person requiring or wanting to change a behavior to start by thinking about what that change might look like for them or for their family or someone they love. Why is it important to them? How will it improve their life? How will they feel supported? Once they ponder and accept these answers, they are more willing to move toward implementing the desired change. Perhaps more importantly, once they have initiated the change on their own, sustaining the change will inevitably deliver the best outcome.
While a massive public health marketing campaign regarding this subject is ongoing, how do we, as every day citizens, help in a societal climate so divided on an issue that could save lives?
Perhaps everyone who has the ability should use their resources to normalize what it looks like and means to wear a face covering?
Communicate, collaborate and commit within your family, your business, your organization, and your political office. Discuss the importance of face coverings and how they affect you and those around you.
Have gentle and non-shaming conversations about the issue. Share the data and scientific recommendations. Highlight individuals in your circle who go above and beyond to keep your community safe (thank you homemade mask makers!).
Show your community what it looks like for you to wear a face covering by role modeling this in public and share it throughout web sites, local newspapers, social media and newsletters.
Celebrate people who embrace this opportunity and commit to wearing a face covering. Maybe these actions, taken by all of us, but especially our elected officials, could help eliminate the partisanship division occurring around face coverings.
I am grateful to the individuals, businesses, organizations and politicians in Northern Michigan who are already doing their part to normalize face coverings. I see you.
However, it is not lost on me that we can collectively do more to empower individuals to embrace facial coverings as a necessary behavioral change. We are all greater than the sum of our parts.
Instead of feeling resentful, let’s work on feeling safe and connected to the people in our community. Change is much more of a process than a one-time event, so it requires continuous work to help people see how masking up can benefit them personally in addition to the community in which they live, work and visit.
In doing so, perhaps our amazing community and state could rely on each other instead of an executive order to keep our communities as safe as possible through this pandemic.