Editorial: Let’s work together on mask plan

The Editorial Advisory Board
Topeka Capital-Journal

With COVID-19 cases surging in Kansas, with hospitals filling up, and with county after county still opting out of basic public health guidance, a statewide mask mandate just makes sense.

That’s what Gov. Laura Kelly tried to do earlier this year, and that’s what the Legislature prevented her from doing by making the guidance optional. Kelly recently met with legislative leaders to address the topic again — but no mandate was forthcoming. Instead, they are supposed to connect with county leaders and encourage them to adopt such requirements.

We understand the political considerations here. Kelly has faced a continual barrage of criticism for her commonsense health measures. The Democratic governor has to play nice with Republican lawmakers.

But here’s the thing. If Kelly’s original orders hadn’t been watered down in a fit of partisan pique, Kansas would be in better shape now. Fewer people would have fallen ill. We might not be facing a surge of cases now. And as a result, our state economy — which the GOP claims to prize — would be in far stronger shape. Remember, people don’t want to go out to spend money if they’re afraid of a pandemic.

Kelly, for her part, is still taking a firm line.

"If we are unable to convince communities to voluntarily implement a mask mandate, I will move expeditiously to find another way to implement a statewide mask requirement," she said at a news conference Wednesday, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Titus Wu.

She’s right to do so. We know that until a vaccine arrives, masks are one of our strongest tools to fend off the virus. They help both prevent transmission and infection.

No, masks might not be 100% effective, but few disease prevention measures are 100% effective. Their utility comes from widespread adoption. If masks cut cases by 40%-60%, let’s say, that’s a big deal if every single person is wearing one. If only a handful do, the benefits are far more modest.

We hope that county leaders listen to their colleagues, listen to the science and ensure masking throughout their communities. Everyone has to work together to create a plan that’s best for Kansans — not for targeting the governor.

Let’s come together and do this. Let’s crush the curve, slow the spread and be in the best shape possible when a vaccine arrives.