Mask stands

Roadside stands selling masks can be found all over Lancaster County.

THE ISSUE

As of Tuesday, Lancaster County had seen 2,985 positive cases of COVID-19 — 89 more cases than Monday's total, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni reported Wednesday that the county had seen 285 deaths from the viral disease. Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated that Lancaster County, like other parts of the commonwealth still in the most restrictive “red” phase of his reopening plan, should be able to move officially into the “yellow” phase June 5.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we saw images of Americans in other states crowding onto beaches and boardwalks, and into bars and swimming pools — and, in Missouri, into a bar with a swimming pool. Most of the revelers were unmasked, apparently oblivious to the risks of COVID-19.

The discouraging images could be employed in a stark public service announcement of what not to do during a deadly pandemic.

Lancaster County residents: We need to do a whole lot better than those weekend revelers. (Admittedly, it’s not a high bar.)

If we want to see more businesses here reopened and operating successfully in less than two weeks — and we should be rooting for that to happen — we need to prepare now to be responsible customers.

That means acquiring face masks if we don’t have them and getting used to wearing them in public spaces where staying at least 6 feet apart from others is difficult — inside a business, for instance.

Even during the yellow phase, businesses must provide their employees with masks to wear while working, and customers who enter those businesses also must wear masks, according to an order signed April 15 by Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. (According to that order, businesses that provide medication, medical supplies or groceries must provide an alternate means of delivering goods to customers who cannot wear masks.)

If you don’t have a mask, it’s easy to make one (also, there are roadside stands throughout the county selling them). If you wear glasses and they fog up when you’re wearing a mask, put a tissue folded horizontally on the bridge of your nose beneath the mask, or insert a flexible wire into the mask edge so it can be molded around your nose; it’s not an insurmountable problem.

Unless you have a diagnosed medical condition that would be worsened by wearing a mask, there’s no excuse not to wear one.

Politics must not be a reason.

As we noted last week, the cultural and political war over mask-wearing “is one of the more ludicrous aspects of this very strange time.”

We continue to wonder if everything in the U.S. now needs to be politicized. Even masks.

Last week, Republican North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum spoke emotionally about the issue in a news conference.

“We’re all in this together, and there’s only one battle we’re fighting, and that’s the battle of the virus,” Burgum said. “I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they’re creating a divide, either it’s ideological, or political, or something, around mask versus no mask. This is a ... senseless dividing line, and I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding.

“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” Burgum continued. “They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID.”

Burgum added that the first assumption that should be made about a person wearing a mask “is that they’re doing it because they’ve got people in their life that they love and that they’re trying to take care of. I just think let’s just start there.”

Masks vs. no masks is indeed, as the red state governor said, “a senseless dividing line.”

And he was right: We need — all of us — to dial up our empathy and consider other people, and the small businesses we hope will rebound, as we resume moving around the community.

As Burgum asserted, wearing a mask shouldn’t signal someone’s political affiliation or worldview. It’s meant to protect other people from a virus that could cause them serious harm. It’s meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It’s a simple act of kindness and empathy to wear a mask in public, to deal with a mildly annoying piece of cloth covering your nose and mouth because you’re concerned about the health and well-being of others.

That isn’t virtue-signaling or an expression of moral superiority. It’s the golden rule in action.

Is it going to be a bit uncomfortable to wear a mask on a 90-degree day? Yes, it will be.

Is it the biggest sacrifice we could be asked to make? No, absolutely not, and Memorial Day just has reminded us of that.

A mask is not a tool of tyranny or a symbol of political correctness. It’s just something we need to wear to protect other people from a virus we could be carrying without knowing it.

Recent studies have shown that “a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms,” notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and “even those who eventually develop symptoms ... can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.”

We’d rather wear masks than carry the worry that we might make other people sick. The former is a minor inconvenience. The latter is a burden we’d rather not shoulder.

This editorial was edited Wednesday afternoon to update the county death toll.