Our View: You don’t need a mandate to care about your neighbors
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Last week, the Routt County Board of Commissioners decided against implementing a countywide mask mandate. COVID-19 infections are soaring to new levels, but the rapidly rising cases haven’t led to higher hospitalization rates — at least not locally.
Add to that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated their guidelines again, and this set of recommendations is even more confusing than the last. If you’ve been struggling to keep up, you’re not alone.
There are many unknowns. New case rates are skyrocketing, but most who test positive seem to show only mild symptoms, if any at all. This could be because of Routt County’s high vaccination rates, or it could be a reflection of how infectious the omicron variant is and how the vaccinated, perhaps overconfident they’re protected, are spreading it.
Beyond that, the testing seems far from perfect. Someone can test negative in the morning and then positive later that night — all without ever showing any symptoms of illness. At the same time, it’s hard to believe infection rates aren’t higher than they are, given so many positive tests aren’t being reported because they’re being done at home.
None of that is going to change anyone’s opinion on the topic, and we realize that. We think it’s sad masking has become a binary choice that’s fallen along such divided lines. Groups have picked sides and entrenched themselves in this conversation, and there’s little chance of coming back together on public masking anytime soon.
When it comes to a public mask mandate, our commissioners are in a hard place: No matter what they decide, it will be the wrong decision for a large portion of their constituents. For commissioners this time, a mask mandate was a bridge too far without a more pervasive public interest pushing them into it, and we respect that.
If hospital capacity does change, we hope county commissioners won’t ignore what they’ve set out as their “North Star” guiding this decision — our hospitals’ ability to deliver care. We, too, believe our hospital capacities are a good barometer to gauge the pandemic, and that measuring stick should remain in place going forward.
It’s important, of course, to remember the network of available hospital beds extends beyond Routt County, and it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening elsewhere in the state. If hospital capacity does become an issue, we believe a mask mandate would be warranted.
But even without a mandate, masking is still a good idea.
Really, what is the difference between wearing a mask and putting on your seatbelt? Just like public health mandates, we put seatbelt and winter traction laws in place for good reasons. When someone tries to climb Rabbit Ears Pass in a rear-wheel drive sports car with bald tires, that driver indirectly and directly puts many other people at risk — whether it’s other drivers, the first-responders who have to work the wreck or the cost it puts on public resources.
And that leads us to one point: The mask debate really is about personal responsibility. While commissioners weren’t willing to put a mandate in place, we all can take it upon ourselves to do our part, limit close contact with others, mask up in public places and take precautions to prevent the spread. It might feel like a small cold or a little sore throat, but it could be a big deal for someone else, and every person who masks up when they head out improves the odds — even if it’s not because of a countywide mandate.
In the early days of the pandemic, when the first waves were rushing across the U.S. and closures were destroying countless people’s livelihoods, many didn’t want to be told what to do. We don’t want to tell anyone what to do either. We just hope you can make a helpful, positive choice on your own by taking responsibility for your health and the health, security and safety of the people around you.
We can’t say it loudly enough: If you feel sick enough to go get tested or the exposure you had warranted you to worry enough to get tested, pause for a minute and think about your actions while you are waiting for that result. Unfortunately, results are taking up to three days, and those are three critical days that a person might be exposing others. Take action if you are shopping, skiing or whatever, to find a proper mask, keep six feet away from people and lay low.
The quarantine period is not fun, especially if you feel fine, but it’s noble to care about the most vulnerable people in our population. Mandate or not, you are in complete control of your actions.
At issue: There has been a fierce debate about implementing a public mask mandate in Routt County with COVID-19 cases reaching all-time highs but few hospitalizations.
Our View: It’s a good idea for county commissioners to keep an eye on hospital capacity when deciding whether to implement a public mask mandate, but their decision should not prevent residents from taking responsibility for their health and the safety of the people around them.
• Bonnie Stewart, publisher
• Eli Pace, editor
• Cuyler Meade, assistant editor
• Ana Gomez, community representative
• Kelly McElfish, community representative
Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or epace@SteamboatPilot.com.
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