Moscow no longer has a face-mask and social distancing ordinance.

Yes, it’s still on the books.

But the city’s reluctance to enforce the rule in the midst of last weekend’s protests has rendered the measure toothless.

When members of Christ Church showed up outside city hall Wednesday, the city had every reason to do as it did — cite individuals who openly violated the ordinance.

The city had science on its side. COVID-19 is passed by airborne droplets spread by infected people who may be at their most contagious when they are asymptomatic and presymptomatic. The coronavirus spreads exponentially. Reduce the shedding of the virus even a modest amount and the results can be substantial. For instance, a study found Washington state’s death rate could be cut between 24 and 65 percent if 80 percent of people complied with a face mask mandate.

There’s the practical experience of others. After its face mask mandate went into effect, the number of new daily cases in Boise dropped from 651 on July 16 to 230 earlier this month. At one point last spring, Blaine County had one of the nation’s worst outbreaks with dozens of new cases reported daily. Now it’s down to “zeroes, ones, twos. Most recently, we saw five new cases with schools opening,” Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenburg told the Idaho Statesman’s Nicole Blanchard.

“The numbers don’t lie,” reported Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican who credits his facemask mandate with keeping COVID-19 transmissions relatively low in his state.

Neither do personal stories.

“I am a no-masker personally,” Candlelight Christian Fellowship Pastor Paul Van Noy told his Coeur d’Alene congregation on July 22.

Last month, a severe case of COVID-19 landed him in Kootenai Medical’s intensive care unit for more than two weeks. His view hasn’t changed, however.

Besides, Moscow doesn’t have a lot of margin for error.

It’s home to the University of Idaho, which is betting that it can continue to hold in-person instruction while keeping a lid on infections. UI just reported 67 new positive cases among its Greek Row residents.

Just down the highway, online classes did not stop Washington State University students from returning to Pullman, where the community two weeks ago had the worst per capita outbreak in the country.

But five citations handed out Wednesday did more to serve the interests of the protesters than it did to protect the community. It made right-wing media stars of people such as Gabe Rench, a GOP candidate for Latah County commissioner, whose arrest got him noticed by Fox News’ Laura Ingraham.

It attracted the opportunistic involvement of grievance peddlers such as Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman, state Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, and Sara Walton Brady of Meridian, who goaded cops into arresting her at a closed city park last spring, publicly apologized for it, then pleaded not guilty and now feeds the narrative of a tyrannical government.

If that’s what it took to get Ingraham to realize the difference between Idaho and Ohio, what would a second rally on Friday bring? Moscow decided not to find out and its police officers kept their distance.

And by Saturday, not only were the police nowhere to be found, but the city closed its Farmers Market, no doubt in response to social media posts such as this: “Wear a gun, don’t wear a gun. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. You decide, exercise your God-given rights to freedom. We need hundreds there.”

If the disciples of Christ Church can thumb their collective noses at a public health ordinance with impunity, how can the law apply to anyone else?

However sound it is to wear a face mask and keep socially distant in Moscow, this is now merely advice.

So chalk up a victory for Christ Church and its adherents such as Rench, the Rev. Ben Zornes and the Rev. Doug Wilson.

They’ve won something else, too — credit for steering their community toward more human illness and needless suffering.

Perhaps they can explain why. — M.T.

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