Local governments are passing mask ordinances because citizens have forced them to.

If people would take the relatively simple precaution of wearing a mask or face covering in public, that could help slow the spread of COVID-19, which has surged to about 40,000 cases being reported per day in the U.S.

This is the recommendation of federal health officials. It’s the recommendation of state health officials. And yet the lack of mask usage has forced some local governments, specifically Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, to consider mandating the face coverings (North Myrtle Beach’s mask ordinance took effect Thursday. Myrtle Beach leaders were scheduled to debate a similar proposal the same day.).

Why are masks important? The main goal of a mask is not to protect the person wearing it (unless we’re talking about medical grade personal protective equipment, which is different). It’s to prevent someone with COVID-19, particularly someone without symptoms, from spreading the disease to others. Here’s how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes this process:

“Cloth face coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face covering coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control. This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), so the use of cloth face coverings is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is difficult to maintain.”

Let’s be clear. We don’t want to see masks mandated. We don’t want to stay apart from loved ones, to remain socially distant and to continue this bizarre way of life that COVID-19 has brought upon us.

But until there is a vaccine, we have few options.

“Wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands and social distancing are the only three things we have at this time to fight COVID-19,” North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said this week. “And we feel like it’s something we as elected officials should stand up to the plate and do for the health and safety of our community.”

We agree. It’s unfortunate that local leaders have been forced to consider this step, but it’s necessary because the public just isn’t helping.

The North Myrtle Beach mask mandate has some reasonable exceptions. It doesn’t apply to restaurants, accommodations or gyms. It also doesn’t apply to those who can’t wear a mask for health reasons.

And despite the protestations from critics, this has nothing to do with fearmongering or threatening individual liberty. It’s about requiring that people do the bare minimum to promote public health during a global pandemic.

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