Pasco County commissioners did the right thing this week. In face of public pressure to end a mask order, they listened to their health officer and kept it in place as infection numbers creep up. This is what thoughtful leaders do — the right thing, not the easy thing.
Pretending this pandemic is nearly over won’t make it so. Indeed, denial will just extend the pain and suffering. The economy won’t recover because politicians play a game of make-believe. It will recover because consumers feel safer leaving their homes, thanks to masks and keeping their distance. Beating the pandemic is a careful game of weighing risk and reward, of looking out for each other. Get the calculation wrong, and people get sick and die.
Things aren’t normal and won’t be for quite a while yet. Need proof? Drop by an empty Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida. Earlier this month, head football coach Dan Mullen had mused about filling the stadium for the game against rival Louisiana State. That was before he tested positive for COVID-19 and is now self-isolating. That was before the Gators reported 25 new positive coronavirus tests in the past week. That was before the big game was postponed because of the outbreak. The football team has suspended all its activities, although they hope to start practicing again on Monday.
Things aren’t normal and pretending otherwise has consequences. Who isn’t tired of the pandemic? But it has killed 16,413 people in Florida in a matter of months, and it’s not over. Another thing: Although the vast majority of patients recover, the long-term health effects are still unclear but can be grim. People don’t need to lock themselves in their homes. But they do need to keep doing the things that have sustained the fight so far, as COVID-19 treatments improve and a vaccine seems months, not years, away. Those who have no choice but to work around others appreciate it when customers and co-workers are wearing masks and taking everyone’s health and safety seriously.
While a majority of the Pasco commissioners made the enlightened decision to weigh the facts and retain the mask order, one — Jack Mariano — moved to loosen the rule, saying, "Let people protect themselves if they want to.'' He added that for those who don’t want to wear masks, he wanted to "give the freedom to go back to their lives the way they want to.'' That’s exactly backward. You wear a mask to protect others, not yourself, and you feel safer when others wear masks and keep their distance to protect you. No one seconded his motion, and for that, the people of Pasco can thank an intelligent decision by commissioners who are looking out for their safety. And by so doing, they are helping to end this pandemic sooner rather than later. Patience and prudence have seen us through so far. Pasco’s political leaders aren’t giving up or letting down their guard. Neither should you.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news