Wear a mask for each other, our community

There are many issues that deserve our attention, our time and our effort in this space, but let’s focus for today on masks and whether we should wear them.

We should. That’s it.

Sampson has had nearly 1,000 cases of COVID-19. This week, the New York Times reported that Sampson, Duplin and Bladen counties in North Carolina were ranked in the top 100 nationwide for per capita cases of the novel coronavirus over the past two weeks. Duplin on Friday reported four more deaths in the past week due to the virus, bringing the death toll to 32 in that county as its cases hit 1,446. Sampson has been fortunate (if that’s even the word) to only have six deaths.

Sampson Regional Medical Center and other community partners have renewed their pleas for the public to wear face coverings, to protect themselves and others as asymptomatic carriers who may not know they even have it because they’re seemingly healthy, but then can pass it on to others. Stop us if you’ve heard this.

It goes past being a respiratory disease for people who are symptomatic, and eats away at the vulnerable population and even those who may not think they are susceptible. There could very well be a pre-existing medical condition, which they know or don’t know exists, but COVID can exacerbate it.

It’s not just a respiratory disease.

If we could ebb this disease, which has earned Sampson and Duplin a national dubious distinction, would we? If, by some simple act, even if it is slightly uncomfortable and possibly out of our usual routine, would we help our neighbor and possibly prevent death within our community? Unfortunately the mantra of many is that they absolutely will not. And that’s really a shame.

The state governor has ordered that masks become mandatory in public spaces where social distancing was not possible. The edict went into effect Friday afternoon. The numbers are going the wrong way, he said. Metrics, trends, the like. Again, stop us if you’ve heard this. But are we actually listening?

Hospitalizations are spiking. More people die every day. With increased testing comes more people identifying as having the virus, so doctors and nurses are able to treat them. There is no cure, but precautions can be made for those who test positive. But medical professionals can’t save everyone who gets a disease that continues to circulate and remains a mystery in many ways.

Knowing that cases can rise, people can lose their life to this virus and we are now a hotbed for said virus — and a mask has been shown to have positive effects on reversing negative trends — why then would anyone actively refrain from encouraging it? Or, at the very least, why would anyone incite those who see this as their liberties being stripped rather than a simple, temporary way to collectively curtail an infectious disease that remains a truly invisible enemy?

We are disheartened by the post to Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton’s Facebook page on Wednesday night, in which he unwaveringly declared he and his deputies would enforce no such mandate by the governor because he believed it to be unconstitutional, unenforceable and a violation to their liberties.

By posting that message, a sheriff sworn to protect all citizens emboldened those who will be woefully stubborn and inconsiderate to others. He told families to be safe. He could have encouraged them to wear a mask. He didn’t. Some variation of “I have not encouraged citizens not to wear masks” was the followup response from the sheriff’s account to the many who asked why he wouldn’t simply encourage masks, or leave well enough alone — or just post the actual order if they were in fact being inundated with concerns from citizens.

Calling into question constitutionality in this particular instance makes this a political issue rather than a human one, serving only to stoke the fires of divisiveness that won’t move us forward, nor get our economic engine fully running again.

We wear the masks for each other and we can get past this. It’s that simple. Yes, protect your families. And do that by wearing a face covering in public. On Thursday, the Clinton Police Department shared a Sampson Regional Medical Center, tacking on a simple message: “Help Sampson County Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Don’t leave home without your mask!”

That’s all it takes.

Unfortunately, for reasons we still can’t quite fathom, wearing a face covering is now seen by some as a political statement. Health experts and the governor have relied on science to inform their decisions throughout this pandemic. On Friday, in a plea for a unified effort, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen pointed to “compelling scientific evidence” of the effectiveness of face coverings.

“However, face coverings only fully work when we all do it,” she added. “If each person commits to wearing a face covering, we can stabilize our COVID-19 trends.”

If we can cover our nose and mouth when we go out in public to help each other, and possibly save a life or a business, then why wouldn’t we do that? What could it possibly hurt to try?