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Editorial: Ricketts must order a statewide mask mandate to help us get through winter
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Editorial: Ricketts must order a statewide mask mandate to help us get through winter

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It is time for Nebraska to impose a statewide mask mandate to fight the coronavirus.

Our medical workers, deeply worried that they won’t have space or staff to care for the escalating number of sick Nebraskans, are pleading for such a measure.

Actually, they have been for some time. We should have listened.

The World-Herald editorial board, like Gov. Pete Ricketts, has opposed mandates, urging voluntary compliance and consideration for others.

But eight months into this pandemic, our COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are spiking at unprecedented levels. More than 10 Nebraskans a day are dying of COVID, and a quarter of the state’s 850-plus deaths have come in the last month. Based on the lag time between positive test results and deaths, the loss of life is projected to keep rising.

Education and begging have proven insufficient. We must use every tool we can to fight through what will be a tough winter as we await vaccines, which, if all goes well, are a few months away from mass distribution.

Ricketts, who opposed mask mandates established through local authority in Lincoln and Omaha, now is standing aside as towns around the state implement such rules. But he continues to prohibit health districts from establishing mandates, even though the virus has spread widely across Nebraska.

This creates a nonsensical patchwork when in fact we must use our full arsenal to do all we can to slow down the spread. Rural areas are no longer isolated from the infection. The whole state needs to be on the same page, requiring masks for all places open to the public, with limited exceptions.

Governors in Utah, North Dakota and Iowa who had steadfastly opposed mandates have now imposed them. The World-Herald’s Henry Cordes and others have shown that Midwestern states that have resisted mandates have the highest infection rates in the United States.

In all, 37 states now have mask mandates in some form.

Ricketts says, without data to back him up, that mandates breed resistance.

And sure, none of us likes to be told what to do and some people will continue to refuse to wear a mask even out of consideration for others. The mandates are mainly scolds — Omaha police, for example, are yet to issue a ticket.

As much as no one likes wearing masks, we also don’t want to be seriously ill, flirt with death or see others suffer. A quarter million Americans and, soon, 1,000 Nebraskans, will have died too early. Their loved ones, friends and neighbors have lost years with them.

The science that’s available says masks help. A global study by Goldman Sachs economists showed increased compliance in locations that have adopted a mandate. It is among studies that argue for masks to limit economic damage from the virus.

In Kansas, where counties can opt out of the state’s mandate, the University of Kansas showed that infection rates are higher in the counties that chose to do so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that masked patrons of a Missouri salon avoided the disease even though they were in close contact with two infected workers.

COVID-19 is real. Some people don’t get very ill, but some die or suffer long-term complications. Masks aren’t foolproof and are not the sole solution, but the evidence is that they help at least a little and probably a lot.

A mask mandate says our leaders are serious and will no longer abet resistance by disregarding medical advice and health workers’ pleas.

When people are sick, they should follow doctors’ orders. Growing numbers of Nebraskans are sick and dying. It’s time, Gov. Ricketts, to follow doctors’ advice and order a statewide mask mandate.


Photos: Our best staff images from November 2020

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