The following editorial appeared in the Post-Star on May 20:
GLENS FALLS — People are justifiably nervous about the abrupt dropping of mask mandates when not even half the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated.
If you haven’t been vaccinated, you should still be wearing a mask in public places, especially indoors, the same as you have been for the past year. But with no way to tell who has been vaccinated and no chance that businesses are going to start asking for proof, we have been thrown into a confusing and risky situation.
We are going to see more people going maskless in the grocery store and the mall and the hardware store and, unfortunately, some of them will be cheating — not wearing masks but not vaccinated. Ideally, everyone would act in the public interest of ending the pandemic but because of resentment of being told what to do and a misguided politicization of public health measures, too many people, we fear, will feel justified in flouting the rules.
Mistrust of authority has been one of the themes of our pandemic experience. First came the questioning of COVID-19’s seriousness, with many citizen-experts comparing it to the seasonal flu. That argument faded as hundreds of thousands of Americans died and many thousands more were hospitalized.
Then came the expressions of doubt about the necessity and efficacy of safety measures, such as mask-wearing and shutdowns. Most recently, we have heard criticisms of the vaccines, even though their effectiveness is obvious.
Now the doubters and deniers are arguing they shouldn’t have to wear masks, even if they’re not vaccinated, because anyone who wants to be protected can get the vaccine.
First, not everyone can get the vaccine. Children still haven’t gotten it, and even though serious COVID-19 cases are rare among children, they happen. Children have died from the disease.
Also, the goal of the vaccine program is not only to protect individuals. It is to reduce transmission to the point the disease stops spreading. If a sizable share of the population refuses to get vaccinated and abandons preventive measures, the disease will persist.
Finally, even if you’re fatalistic about your own health, COVID-19 outbreaks can strain our health care system and imperil other patients. That has happened here and in other countries: So many resources have been required to fight COVID-19 that other patients needing help have been neglected.
The lifting of the mask mandates is a triumph of modern science and a testament to the tremendously hard work front-line health care workers and public health teams have put in all year. It is also a testament to the cooperation and sacrifice of citizens who have been careful for many months — wearing masks, forgoing visits with family and friends and getting vaccinated.
It would be a shame if now, with vaccines in hand, we were to slide back into wider spread of the disease, followed by the inevitable hospitalizations and deaths. The pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans in a little more than a year. Although the pace has been slowed, daily fatalities continue. We all still need to do everything we can to stop that.
Local editorials are written by the Post-Star editorial board, which includes Ben Rogers, president and director of local sales and marketing; Brian Corcoran, regional finance director and former publisher; Will Doolittle, projects editor; and Bob Condon, local news editor. © 2021 Post-Star.