Scott Tibbs

Monroe County's mask mandate was all about politics

By Scott Tibbs, March 11, 2022

Monroe County's mask mandate expired one week ago today. People who were required by law to wear a mask in public places on March 3 did not have to wear a mask on March 4. Can anyone explain the scientific justification for mandatory masking in public places on Thursday and not on Friday?

You cannot do that, because there is no scientific justification for the policy shift. The virus did not magically become less contagious or less dangerous in 24 hours. When it became clear that there was a date certain within a couple weeks that the mask mandate would expire, the mandate should have been repealed. The increased risk between February 18 and March 4 was minuscule at best, if it existed at all. Yet county government was determined to hang on to this authority until the last possible second.

I can hear the response now: If the mandate should have been lifted two weeks early, why not in August of 2020? The answer to that is simple: We did not have therapeutics that were as effective, and we certainly did not have access to life-saving vaccines. Furthermore, it was clear in January that the dominant strain of COVID-19 was Omicron, which was significantly more transmissible and less deadly than previous strains of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the most popular masks - cloth masks - were little more than decoration. Even higher-quality masks were significantly less effective if not worn properly.

Keeping the mask mandate as long as possible was a political decision, not a scientific decision. Masks, unfortunately, have become a political wedge issue, and the county commissioners faced significant political pressure to keep the mask mandate in place - as well as a desire to signal their virtue over the rest of the "backward" Red State. But it is this very politicization of mask mandates that makes people distrust our public health authorities.

Mask mandates had their place. As I have said many times before, I supported and defended the mask mandate for the first year of the pandemic. I was wearing a mask in public places before it was mandatory. I encouraged people to submit to the law, following the Apostle Paul's commands in Romans 13. But that time is over and has been over for quite a while. County government should have moved away from mask mandates with the rest of the state last August, but doubled down instead. We need new leadership in county government.

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