Easing of mask mandates was inevitable, but it's likely a mistake

Published February 17, 2022

By Rob Schofield

Across the nation, the story is the same. Buoyed by rapidly declining infection numbers and cowed by loud protests, misinformation, and widespread noncompliance, many elected leaders are moving to scale back or even end COVID-19 prevention practices like mandatory masking and contact tracing.

For politicians who have to surf the wave of public opinion and behavior patterns, it probably makes sense. Better to make a plea for voluntary compliance and save a few lives than allow for a frustrated and stir-crazy public to start ignoring public health directives wholesale.

This afternoon, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper joined the parade by urging schools and local governments to end their mask mandates.

In a noon news release, Cooper said “We are taking a positive step on mask requirements to help us move safely toward a more normal day to day life. It’s time to focus on getting our children a good education and improving our schools, no matter how you feel about masks.”

Unfortunately, while this is understandable and probably inevitable, it’s almost certainly not the best outcome.

We may not want to hear it, but the hard truth is that, when it comes to the pandemic, we’re not quite out of the woods.

Yes, things are definitely trending in a positive direction. The latest numbers show that new infections are now the lowest they’ve been in 2022. And while we’d be much better off if more people had gotten vaccinated and worn masks all along, it appears there is good reason to see a real glimmer of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel in which we’ve been stuck.

As welcome as that news is, however, it doesn’t mean were there yet. Despite recent encouraging progress, thousands of preventable deaths and infections are still occurring every day and the numbers could easily spike again as new virus variants and sub-variants emerge. And while Republicans continue to shout about allowing people the freedom to choose when it comes to masks, this ignores the reality that mask-wearing is not just about protecting oneself — it’s about protecting others from germs you may be spreading.

The bottom line: everyone’s anxious to get back to something akin to normal life. But the fastest and safest way to make that happen (and to save another boatload of human lives) would be to hang in there with the public health practices recommended by experts just a little bit longer. It’s deeply unfortunate that so many North Carolinians have become oblivious to this hard, but undeniable truth.