Unwilling to stand up to the loudest voices of opposition to face masks Monday, Lewiston’s city councilors decided against the mandate Councilors Bob Blakey and John Bradbury proposed.
Instead, they chose a more pleasant word: They’d request people wear a mask to help stop COVID-19 transmission.
Why stop there?
Why not just recommend that people not get behind the wheel if they’ve become intoxicated? Just because drunks kill more than 10,000 people — including themselves — on the road every year, who needs a law?
Why not just recommend that you not light up that Marlboro in a crowded restaurant? You don’t need an outright ban on indoor smoking. What are you afraid of — becoming one of the 3,000 nonsmokers who die from lung cancer each year?
Can’t we just discourage people from texting or using their cellphones while driving? Who needs a ban? Those 4,800 Idaho traffic accidents, 425 serious injuries and 51 fatalities caused by distracted driving are a rounding error.
And what about that solid yellow line in your lane of traffic? Let’s just recommend you not cross into the oncoming lane to pass. So what if aggressive driving accounts for 51 percent of Idaho’s crashes and a third of its deaths?
It’s about freedom, baby.
Ridiculous, you say?
Elevating individual freedom ahead of public health and safety, you say?
Allowing a vocal minority to veto the public interest, you say?
Then explain this:
The cornoavirus is spread by droplets.
You’re more likely to spread the virus by talking rather than by coughing or sneezing.
The most infectious people out there are those who don’t know they have it — they’re asymptomatic or presymptomatic.
If you wear a mask, you protect someone else. If they wear a mask, they protect you.
There’s also the possibility a mask protects the person wearing it as well. Dosage matters. If a mask blocks a larger amount of virus from entering your respiratory system, you may just buy your immune system time to respond. Maybe you won’t get as sick. Maybe you won’t get sick at all.
Because COVID-19 spreads exponentially, even a little helps a lot. For instance, say mask wearing cuts the infection growth rate by only 10 percent.
Instead of one person infecting 2.5 people, he’s infecting 2.25 people. Over a cycle of 15 interactions among individuals, that could produce an 80 percent reduction.
Closer to home, when researchers looked at Washington state, they found its death rate could be cut between 24 to 65 percent if 80 percent of people wore masks.
Compare Ada County — where the local health district imposed a face mask mandate on July 14 — to Canyon County — where the health district settled for a recommendation. As Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported this week, Ada County is seeing a decline in new cases — 21.5 per 100,000 population — while Canyon County reports a spike — to 43.9 per 100,000 population.
Face masks helped contain the pandemic in places such as China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Kuwait, Czechia, Slovakia, Japan and Mongolia.
Thirty-one states — including Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — have statewide face mask mandates.
In Idaho, 46 percent of the population lives under a face mask mandate — including Stanley, Hailey, Victor, McCall, Ketchum, Boise, Moscow and Driggs along with Ada, Blaine, Bonneville, Kootenai and Teton counties.
What do they know that Lewiston does not?
They know a recommendation won’t help a retailer protect his other customers. An advisory won’t reinforce a restaurant operator’s efforts at persuading customers to don a mask. Politely asking people to look after the health of others will ring hollow when infection rates escalate.
By then, Bradbury’s parting shot will resonate:
“If you want to talk about freedom, there’s nothing less free than being dead.” — M.T.