This editorial is published in conjunction with Lee Enterprises' Illinois newspapers.
Here we are again.
Counties in Illinois have had COVID-19 warning levels elevated. Essentially, it’s a last-chance. Our COVID positive rates must drop, or we’ll face a step back to more draconian limitations being reinstated.
Illinois is in the midst of its second climb in active cases. After a mid-July bottoming out of that number, we’re now at the same level as we were in early May, more than triple when the numbers were at their lowest.
We’re not flattening the curve. Not even close.
We’re not the outlier among the United States. But the United States is the outlier in the world. Despite being less than 4% of the world’s population, the United States accounts for almost a quarter of the positive cases globally.
Might the world be underreporting its results compared with the manner in which the United States is reporting? Sure. China’s behavior and response has been questionable throughout the crisis. Russia appears to be operating with a policy of widespread disinformation. Africa remains a continent that Western Civilization largely ignores.
But that doesn’t change the numbers posted in the United States or Illinois. Did some of us get sloppy or forgetful with Labor Day activities, and are we now paying the price?
Or is this the result of too many of us avoiding masks too often?
Let’s be honest. We all see the people who decide they’re not wearing masks. Some of them do it defiantly, appearing to almost seek out confrontations. Some appear to be waiting for someone to confront them. The worst are the individuals who have decided regardless of what the numbers and reality say, this crisis is done and they’re done playing along.
There’s been one consistent as the world has battled this pandemic. Masks and social distancing have been the tasks that have reduced positive cases and slowed the spread of COVID-19. It’s that simple. But around the world, we’ve been in a rush to return to “normal.” We’re slow to learn that whatever “normal” ends up being, life won’t be like it was in January. And predictions of COVID impacting the world well into next year seem more accurate than those suggesting otherwise.
The key weapon in the mitigation war — one which we’re currently losing — is a simple mask, and the courtesy of social distancing. Until we’re willing to do that, any discussions about rebuilding must be placed on the future file.
Historically, pandemics seem to run their course in about 18 months. Do we have the capability to make it through that amount of time? The politicization of masks has made discussion about tactics impossible. We’re in the worst possible world — one “side” is trying to pacify medical concerns by insisting on the use of masks, and the other “side” is concerned about rights and overstepping bounds and control of those without interest in being controlled.
But there’s no force in the tactical plan. Honestly, we probably don’t want there to be. As a society that has the default setting of thinking people are decent, it’s too much to ask that police storm in and close businesses not “enforcing” mask regulations, or revive paddy wagons to haul away individuals who don’t mask up.
Additionally, we don’t need citizen vigilantes fighting on either side. Leaving enforcement of mask mandates in the hands of part-time or underpaid retail and service workers is expecting too much. Similarly, though, the behavior of maskless mobs stomping through stores mocking the idea of facial protection is senseless, cruel and uncalled for. The point served by mask “protests” remains elusive.
We don’t get to break off into our own regional areas and behave as we wish regarding masks. Not if we want to live in a society.
We also need to remember that in all societies, people who disagree still need to work and play side by side.
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