With the specter of refrigerated morgue trucks at Texas hospitals, record numbers of hospitalizations, and rapidly increasing COVID cases in Anderson County and its five prisons, not doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is downright reckless.

 

Anderson County reported its second COVID-related death this week. New positive cases rose more than 50% Monday-Thursday to 302, including a record 204 active cases.

 

We can no longer afford to politicize a public health emergency that knows no ideology, or engage in silly conspiracy theories or errant debates over the constitutionality of actions taken by state government to protect public health.

 

Gov. Greg Abbott's proclamation, effective July 3, making face masks mandatory in public has, happily, greatly expanded their use. Anecdotally, the percentage of local residents wearing masks appears to have more than doubled, from 40% to 90%.

 

That still leaves a significant minority of local residents not taking this pandemic seriously, and that's troubling, especially when it's encouraged by elected officials. Cotton masks reduce the transmission of the coronavirus by 85%, the best available science concludes. Because up to half of the cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, many people without masks have unknowingly spread the virus, even at summer cookouts and other family gatherings.

 

Public safety remains government's most fundamental mission. The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants states enormous powers to regulate behavior during a public health crisis, including taking emergency actions, setting quarantines, and restricting businesses.

 

Over the past 200 years, numerous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court – the arbiter of the Constitution – have upheld the authority of states to protect public safety and control dangerous diseases. Even during non-emergencies, states can prohibit drunk driving, require seat belts, and take other public safety measures.

 

Statewide, COVID-19 has taken a deadly turn. COVID numbers also have soared in Anderson County's five prisons, which earlier this week reported a combined total of 1,649 cases – 753 at the Coffield Unit alone.

 

All this makes wearing masks in public and practicing social distancing essential. It's up to us. Police officers can't enforce the governor's proclamation. Most won't even try, and that's OK. They have many higher priorities.

 

What's not OK is complacency, or elected officials subverting efforts to control this disease. Given the dangerous turn in Texas' battle against COVID-19, we all need to step up our vigilance to protect ourselves and our communities.

 

 

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