This editorial was published by the Post Register of Idaho Falls.

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At a news conference last week, Gov. Brad Little took Idaho back to Stage 2 of his four-stage reopening plan, which means gatherings of more than 10 people are no longer allowed. He did not do the most important thing, however: issue a statewide, enforceable mask-wearing mandate.

Little continued to rely on one of the most tired, and most hypocritical, phrases in the American political lexicon: “personal responsibility.” If you pay attention, you will notice that every time a politician invokes “personal responsibility” it is in the context of refusing to take responsibility himself.

Little missed yet another opportunity to stop Idaho’s slide into an utter health care crisis.

Some hospitals in Idaho are already overwhelmed, and the rest are likely to follow within a few weeks. Right now this means in many places important but not immediately critical procedures are off the table. Soon, it will mean a hospital has to choose which patient will get potentially life-saving care and which will be allowed to die.

Little again pleaded with Idahoans to wear masks, but education is not working. Public messaging is not working. Many Idahoans, either because they have been duped by misinformation about the pandemic or because they simply don’t care enough about vulnerable people to make the small sacrifices necessary to keep them safe, are ignoring everything health experts are saying.

Vaccines are within sight. Promising initial data indicates they’re more effective than most scientists had dared to hope. There is no more important time imaginable for Little to take steps to save every life that can be saved.

Instead, with salvation months away, people are dying in avoidable ways because Little hasn’t mustered the political courage to take the obvious step to stop it: an enforced mask mandate.

Little gave one reason why a mask mandate might not be sufficient: Most spread is occurring at family gatherings where there are no police to enforce mask-wearing. While this is true, it is also beside the point. Just because COVID spreads within families does not mean we should ignore the ways it spreads between families.

The case for mandating masks to prevent transmission in public is clear, simple and basic to many other parts of public policy.

If a huge portion of the population decided to take up drunk driving, would the answer be just to ignore it because you can’t catch them all? Or would it be to step up enforcement, knowing you couldn’t catch them all, but hoping to provide sufficient incentive to curb dangerous behavior?

How is this situation different? Here’s an important way: Nationwide, drunk driving killed 10,511 people in 2018. This year, COVID-19 has killed more than a quarter-million Americans.

You should expect that hundreds more Idahoans will die in the coming months, in part because action has been delayed far too long. The longer we wait, the more of our neighbors we send to an early grave.

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