The Franklin County Commission made the right call in issuing a countywide mask mandate. It was an appropriate action to slow the spread of the virus, which is surging here and across the country.
Predictably, there will be outrage from a vocal minority over the decision, but the commissioners deserve credit for leading on this issue. Common sense should trump politics during a public health crisis. Now is not the time for willful ignorance.
Pressure was building for more aggressive COVID-19 mitigation efforts over the past few weeks. All signs pointed to a growing crisis.
Franklin County’s infection rate had more than doubled over the past month. Hospitalizations were increasing at unsustainable rates. Warnings from local health officials were growing louder and more frantic.
The Missouri Hospital Association said the virus was “unbowed” and that by many metrics current conditions are “far worse than they were this spring.” In a Nov. 13 letter to Gov. Mike Parson, the association warned “the wolf is at the door” in urging him to issue a statewide masking mandate.
Earlier this week, results from a new St. Louis University study showed that even the patchwork system of local mask mandates led to a “significant” reduction in the spread of the coronavirus in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
While the study noted the rate of new coronavirus infections had dramatically increased in St. Louis city and County since July, those increases paled in comparison to its bordering counties that didn’t have mask mandates. One of those counties was Franklin.
The study revealed that the three “collar counties” bordering St. Louis that did not impose mask mandates saw percent increases in their COVID-19 cases measured in four digits, with Franklin County leading the way at 1,573.3 percent from July 3 to Nov. 13.
On Wednesday of this week, Gov. Parson came to Washington to tour the new Melton Machine facility. In a post-tour interview Parson, who has steadfastly refused to issue a statewide mask mandate, made some of his most forceful comments to date on the need for mitigation efforts to combat the virus — including implementing mask mandates at the local level.
Saying “we all got to do a better job than we’re doing,” Parson told The Missourian that he unequivocally supports local governments implementing mask mandates and that it was time to take the politics out of the debate.
He made a personal plea for everyone to wear a mask arguing “ ... you need to wear the mask. And I need you to do that. And I need you to do the social distancing. I need you to make sure on those large gatherings, we don’t do it for the next four weeks is crucial.”
The following day, Parson went even further in a press conference at the Capitol, encouraging counties to take mitigation actions to slow the virus. “The virus is everywhere. And nobody has control of it.”
The governor wasn’t going to reverse course on his refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate, but he was making a plea for counties and cities to take the lead.
Parson’s invitation for counties to act didn’t fall on deaf ears. Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker heard the governor’s remarks in Washington. The two Republicans are close — so close we have accused Brinker of taking his marching orders from the governor.
We are glad he listened. The county’s mask mandate is a reasonable response to a public health crisis with real impacts locally. Hospital capacity, even more than the number of positive test results, is the key metric that must be watched to avoid a public health catastrophe. Mercy Hospital Washington is at the breaking point. Brinker and the other commissioners made their decision based on that criteria. That’s called leadership.
Brinker and the other commissioners are going to catch hell from the anti-maskers. That is unfortunate. This shouldn’t be a political debate, but rather a scientific one. For the vast majority of people, there is no downside to wearing a mask in public. The upside, slowing the spread of the virus, benefits us all.
Wearing a mask indoors in public, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing are the only weapons we have in a fight where a vaccine is still months away from being available to the general public.
One more important thing to consider, hospitals exceeding capacity will almost certainly lead to an economic shutdown like the one enforced early in the pandemic. That would be disastrous and something to be avoided at all costs. Give our commissioners credit for recognizing this fact when the critics attack them.
If a county mask mandate, along with hand washing and keeping one’s distance from others, allows business and daily life to return to something approaching normal, then it is an easy choice and the right thing to do.
We ask our readers to lean in and embrace the county’s directive whether you agree with it or not.
We’re all in this together.