EDITORIAL: Fighting COVID-19 will require personal responsibility when mask mandate expires
Some states, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas among them, have dropped their statewide mask mandates. Alabama is set to join them.
Alabama’s statewide mask order expires April 9, and Gov. Kay Ivey has said she will not extend it again. Instead, Ivey is encouraging Alabamians to take personal responsibility and continue to wear masks when out in public and unable to maintain a safe distance from others.
“We have made progress, and we are moving toward personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” Gina Maiola, Ivey’s spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.
Some Alabama counties and cities may keep their local mask mandates, but Madison County is not one of them. On Wednesday the Madison County Board of Health issued a statement saying they will like the county-wide mask mandate to coincide with the end of the state’s requirement on April 9 at 5 p.m.
They did recommend that schools, businesses, health care facilities, nursing homes, and crowded places continue to require face coverings.
The announcement, signed by board chair Dr. Sherrie Squyres and county Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers, also says the order will be re-instated if needed to protect citizens. According to past statements made by Madison Mayor Paul Finley and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, this means no mask mandates in either city after April 9.
States repealing their mask orders, or letting them expire, has set off alarm in the Biden Administration and among leaders of some federal health agencies.
President Joe Biden has pleaded for states to keep their mask mandates, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is striking a downright apocalyptic note, warning of “impending doom” if we let up now in the fight against COVID-19.
In a conference call Tuesday with governors, The AP reported, Walensky cited “concerning” national trends: The seven-day average of 61,000 new COVID-19 cases per day is up 13%, and the seven-day average of deaths is up 6%.
The increase in cases, however, is not the entire story.
According to an NBC report, most of the new new patients are younger than previously, and they are not as sick. As a result, fewer of them require hospitalization.
“The cases we are seeing are the younger groups that probably aren’t eligible for vaccines just yet,” Dr. Frederick Davis, an associate chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Hospital in New York, told NBC.
That is encouraging news on two levels. Not only are fewer people getting as sick and dying than in previous COVID-19 spikes, vaccinations are starting to have an effect. Vaccinated populations are not the ones getting sick.
Still, the 6% rise in the seven-day average of deaths shows that caution is still warranted, especially for those not yet fully vaccinated.
While the unvaccinated still should take precautions, such as wearing masks in public, indoor spaces, the Biden Administration may be overly cautious. The pendulum has swung from President Donald Trump not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously enough to President Biden’s undue pessimism.
Pessimism has its own dangers. If there is no hope of a return to normality, the sooner the better, people will not be as inclined to get vaccinated, and getting people vaccinated should be priority No. 1.
If Trump set a bad example by rarely wearing a mask in public, perhaps Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are setting a bad example, too, by continuing to wear masks even though they are both fully vaccinated.
That doesn’t instill confidence. It doesn’t instill optimism. And, worse still, it gives ammunition to the conspiracy theorists who argue masks are about control, not public health.
If Biden disagrees, he needs to explain why. When it comes to masks, personal responsibility goes both ways.
In the meantime, as the clock ticks down on Alabama’s mask mandate, it’s still a good idea for those of us who have not been fully vaccinated to continue masking up.