Colorado just muddled through a year of pandemic made needlessly worse because of confusing, tentative health recommendations and endless levels of government sheepishly playing political hot potato.
Why are we going through this again?
Officials from several levels of government are already squabbling about whether we should rigorously ask, but politely not insist, that everyone go back to masking up indoors in public. No level of government seems willing to mandate masks, again, to effectively slow and prevent the spread of a new and improved coronavirus that could quickly turn Colorado into Missouri even before school has a chance to start.
It was just over a year ago that the science became crystal clear that putting masks over people’s mouths and noses effectively reduces the spread of the new coronavirus.
Despite that, no government agency in Colorado wanted to be the one to tell people: Put on a mask or stay home.
Gov. Jared Polis said it should be a local decision. Local health departments said they weren’t even sure if they could. They even wanted the state or municipalities to pull the trigger on mask mandates. Cities and health departments also said businesses should be making that call. Businesses balked at the responsibility and wanted a government mandate to get them off the hook of a public health crisis that wrongly became a political crisis. Even the police stood back, saying they did not want to be in a position to enforce mask mandates for myriad political reasons.
The folly went on for weeks last spring as the level of infection spiraled.
The exploit became so convoluted that Texas actually made masks mandatory before Colorado did.
Once again, the Centers for Disease Control orders, rolling downhill into state and local health departments, now “recommend” even vaccinated people don masks in public places, including schools. Non-vaccinated people are even more strongly “encouraged” to wear masks in public.
The science behind the need for masks right now is unequivocal. A recent outbreak of the delta variant of the new coronavirus in Cape Cod clearly shows that even infected vaccinated people shed and spread the virus in large quantities, even if they’re asymptomatic.
The message from the CDC, as well as state and local health departments, “recommending” masking up would be appropriate — if most or all people heeded it.
That’s clearly not the case in the Denver metro area where people in masks are now obviously the rarity in grocery stores, bars and restaurants.
And given the feedback on social media and endless news reports, people averse to vaccination and masking, not just indifferent to it, absolutely cannot be counted on to follow such recommendations.
Compounding the imprudence of a “pretty please” policy is the reality that efforts to use contact tracing to accurately determine where and how the virus is most prolifically spread, were washouts. The virus remains far too widespread and those who get it are generally in far too many public places to accurately determine whether some public activity should require mask mandates while some could call for just recommendations.
Ours is not a world where the vast majority of people can be counted on to do the right thing, even if their lives and the lives of others depend on it. There is no shortage of solid recommendations from health officials that, if followed by everyone, would already have prevented the current resurgence of the pandemic.
The moment calls for the CDC and Colorado to mandate that anyone who works among others show proof of vaccination — or work at home, alone.
The moment calls for the state to mandate proof of vaccination to enter public stores, venues and facilities, or stay home.
Clearly, there is no political will or appetite for such sensible, life-saving and easily achieved requirements.
At the very least, then, the moment calls for state and local health departments to mandate the use of masks in all public places, especially public schools, where everyone younger than 12 cannot even be vaccinated yet.
Colorado, and the rest of the nation, had an opportunity this spring and summer to fence in the virus with vaccination and mask “recommendations.” Because too many people have avoided those options, Colorado must return to trying to mitigate the spread of the virus to ensure the stability of the health-care system and to prevent further damage to the economy.
State and local government officials must face the reality that “recommendations” mean nothing to most of the public, and especially those who should heed the recommendations more than anyone.
Mandate masks in public now to limit the resurgence of this new and more dangerous variant of the coronavirus in order to stave off other mandates that will be far more burdensome and possibly devastating than the simple, cheap and effective task of simply wearing a mask.