The Cowley County Commission should let the new statewide mask mandate stand.
Understandably, commissioners don’t want to infringe on anyone’s personal freedom or approve of something that people will just ignore.
But they also, we are sure, want to prioritize the safety and health of the citizens they represent. This is often a difficult balancing act.
Elected leaders make these type of decisions all the time. Balance between, say, how much to tax to keep bridges and roads safe. How strictly to enforce speeding laws. What kind of land-use regulations, or food-truck rules to impose.
The dilemma facing the Cowley County Commission today is one they surely never envisioned: Whether requiring people to wear face coverings in public, especially indoors, is worth a reasonable infringement on their individual rights.
We think that, at least right now for a temporary period of time, based on the suffering and dangers at hand, the answer is a clear yes.
But commissioners don’t even need to go that far. They can actually lead by doing … nothing. They can allow Gov. Kelly’s statewide mask mandate to take affect in Cowley County without actually approving of it.
They can put the expertise and responsibility of Kelly as the state’s chief executive and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to the test.
We also would urge Public Health Officer Thomas Langer to support the statewide order. Langer has rightly lamented the intersection of politics and public health during this pandemic. Supporting a masking order follows the science and elevates public health over our ideological divides.
In an almost impossible position, Langer has tried and tried to get people to follow precautions on their own free will. A good chunk of people will dismiss any order, of course, but another chunk of will respond favorably to expert authority. Especially amid the elevated dangers.
There is good reason to believe the mask order will protect more people from the virus and save lives, even if only at the margins.
Enforcement really isn’t an issue. No fines or punishment need occur, unless something egregious happens. A good number of people will follow just based on the authority of the state and even tacit support of local officials. Peer pressure will also help.
Experts studying mask orders find mounting evidence that they work. Science and logic are on the side of masking to slow the spread.
Commissioners surely are aware of some cold, alarming facts: Local cases have nearly doubled to 1,198 in less than three weeks. There are about 360 active cases and climbing. Long-held fears of limited hospital capacity have materialized.
The death toll has reached at least 18, with eight of those announced since last week. Two were middle-aged men, leaving behind stricken children and family members.
There comes a time for leaders to rise above our normal ideological comforts and take bold stands that risk our popularity or in-group membership.
Indeed, some rural, conservatives counties in Kansas are tightening up pandemic rules now to protect their constituents.
As the disease sickens and kills more and more of us, we believe more and more people are willing to accept limitations for the greater good.
Please, commissioners. Do nothing. Let’s see if we can help slow the spread of this deadly disease with a sliver more of sacrifice.
— David A. Seaton, publisher