Lancaster County Government Center

The Lancaster County Government Center is located at 150 N. Queen St., Lancaster.

THE ISSUE

“Whether you need to wear a mask when visiting Lancaster County government buildings depends on which structure you enter,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Carter Walker reported in Thursday’s edition. At the county courthouse, masks are required, but at the county government building on North Queen Street, masks are only “strongly encouraged, but not required,” the county’s chief clerk, Larry George, told Walker. The three Lancaster County commissioners are not in agreement on the issue of wearing masks.

“Another editorial about masks?” you might be thinking.

We get it. We hear the frustration.

We’re frustrated, too, that more even needs to be said on this topic. But we must get it right on masks.

First and always foremost, we remain in a public health crisis that has killed 113,000 Americans and might, by at least one estimate, kill another 90,000 Americans between now and Labor Day.

The virus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t care what color Lancaster County has been designated.

It doesn’t care if it’s sunny and beautiful outside.

It spreads, infects and kills faster and more effectively if we don’t take certain precautions. Especially when we are around other people and especially indoors.

Thankfully, those precautions are no mystery. We understand the best ways to minimize the spread of the contagion and protect each other.

The very best way: wearing a mask in public. The science on this has been clear for some time. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can be spread through droplets that spray from our mouths and nose when we talk, cough and sneeze. Wearing a mask properly (with the nose covered) helps to prevent those droplets from being transmitted to others. “My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.”

There has been additional compelling evidence recently on just how effective masks can be:

Scientists at the University of Hong Kong found that transmission of the novel coronavirus through respiratory droplets or airborne particles is reduced by as much as 75% when masks are used.

— And a study by Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich universities suggested that widespread mask-wearing would fully flatten the curve of infections, preventing a deadly second wave.

Those are promising studies. We should be heartened at how much progress we can make at containing the virus if we get to the point where a very high percentage of the population is wearing masks in public.


Get on the same page

That brings us back to Walker’s article about the Lancaster County Government Center. There are dueling opinions among the commissioners.

Commissioner Craig Lehman told Walker that his understanding of the policy the three commissioners agreed to was that staff must wear masks when interacting with the public or working in public areas. And he favors the courthouse’s approach of requiring masks for visiting members of the public.

But Commissioner Josh Parsons told Walker in an email, “There is no legal basis in statute for requiring mask use and doing so would not be appropriate." Parsons added that “county government has been following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which ‘recommends’ wearing masks.” He also believes personal liberty is a factor.

Commissioner Ray D’Agostino told Walker he agrees with Parsons’ stance that masks cannot be required.

“Encouraged.”

“Required.”

“Recommends.”

These words each have slightly different meanings, but they all suggest that mask-wearing is indicated.

Parsons is right that there’s an element of personal liberty here, but when did we become a country of people who don’t care about one another? And aren’t the best elected officials the ones who inspire us to care about the well-being of our fellow citizens?

In our view, the Lancaster County Government Center should require masks for the public, as the courthouse does. We realize different officials are in charge of those separate government entities. Those officials can have different interpretations of state, federal and CDC guidance. Decisions can come down to semantics.

But the positions of the three commissioners are closer than they might think. And we don’t believe it’s too much, amid a still-ongoing pandemic, to ask them to work this out and publicly project that they’re on the same page.

Set aside quibbles over legalities and statutes and just make this clear: The expectation is that we should wear masks in public. Period.

That must be the culture now. If we start with the societal expectation that we should wear masks — to protect those around us and keep the curve of the contagion flattened — then no other argument should be necessary.

And no, it’s not a law that you would be punished for violating. (Except you might want to wear a mask on the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where masks are required and a Lancaster County man just was cited by police for not wearing one.)

But let’s keep the narrative positively focused on opting in, rather than arguing over the right to opt out.

Elected officials and others in influential positions should be shouting from the rooftops about the importance of wearing masks. About how wearing masks will save lives. About how wearing masks is the fastest route to rebooting the economy and restoring people’s livelihoods.

We must set aside our bickering, some of which we believe is too fueled by partisan politics, and promote the wearing of masks as if it was the most important advertising campaign of our lifetimes. Because it just might be.