OPINION

Numbers show mask mandates are working, so some counties dropping caution

By The Editorial Advisory Board
Diann Mendez Windmeyer Hall and Shane Windmeyer

Seriously, Kansas county officials, what will it take?

Does it take your residents falling ill and crowding hospitals? Does it take them succumbing to a pandemic because medical resources are stretched too thin? Or does it simply take COVID-19 finally affecting a family member or close friend?

These are strong words, we know. But the story last week from The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl is most concerning.

“Multiple Kansas counties are backing off mask mandates they implemented last month as COVID-19 cases increased ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, with local elected officials arguing that they had weathered the wave of infections,” Bahl wrote. “But they are doing so over the guidance of local public health officials and hospital administrators, who say caution is still warranted.”

This is, to use the technical term, nuts.

Yes, COVID-19 cases have dropped from their pre-Thanksgiving high. But one of the reasons that have dropped was that many Kansas counties finally dropped their resistance to mask mandates. As has been shown time and again, wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings are all effective at reducing the risk of virus transmission.

So because a public health tactic has worked, because fewer people are becoming sick — it’s time to stop? That makes no sense whatsoever.

Titus Wu’s story in The Capital-Journal, also last week, shows what’s at stake. Diann Mendez Windmeyer Hall, 68, died three days before Christmas. She struggled with the virus for about a month before passing.

"The more infectious our society becomes, by not wearing masks and by just going out, it makes it more likely and more probable that somebody who is vulnerable ... that they're going to get the disease and suffer or possibly even die from COVID," said son Shane Windmeyer. "I don't understand why that is political."

Yes, we have a vaccine. Yes, help is on the way. But we all have to persist through these next few months. The rollout of the inoculations has been bumpy, as state and local health departments across the nation have worked to prioritize those in need.

Until we all have the shots we need, and until we are able to truly reduce and eliminate risk, now is not the time to reduce restrictions. Now is not the time to end mask mandates or say that normalcy is returning.

It will. But not yet.