Masking is up to you now

York Dispatch editorial board

To mask or not to mask, that is the question.

For most people in York County, the answer seems to be no. No masks at the grocery, no masks in restaurants, no masks in churches, no masks in movie theaters, no masks in courtrooms. 

For months, mask sightings have been few and far between in many places around York County, no matter how many people are in a space or how closely packed they are.

York countians were the first to laugh at Philadelphia when it reinstated its mask mandate earlier this month and the first to laugh again when the mandate was dropped within days.

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The recent lifting of mask mandates on planes, trains and buses was cause for joy in many a social media post.

But it was also a cause for frustration for many. 

For parents of children under 5, who can't receive a COVID-19 vaccination yet, the general tossing of the masks is another cause for worry, as it is for people with compromised immune systems and others at high risk of being hospitalized or dying if they do get sick, even with full vaccinations and boosters.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Navarro, a respiratory care practitioner assigned to Joint Base San Antonio- Fort Sam Houston, Texas, confirms the settings on his patient’s transport ventilator to aid them in proper breathing while supporting COVID response operations at WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital in York, Pennsylvania, Jan. 3, 2022. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to the whole-of-government COVID response. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ashleigh Maxwell)

Their concern is especially heightened as new studies show that a quarter of all Americans have been infected with the coronavirus since the omicron wave began in December and that more than half of the country has had an infection at some point in the past two years.

Which doesn't mean all those people are now immune from getting severely ill from a new COVID infection. The most proven method for avoiding severe illness is getting the vaccine.

And yet vaccination numbers remain stubbornly low. York County has been stalled at less than 56% of residents fully vaccinated for months, and just over 1 in 4 in York County have received their first booster shot.

At the same time, case numbers are slowly creeping up again. York County registered 51 new cases Wednesday after averaging around 13 cases per day in mid-March, even as now widely available home testing assures that not all positive cases are reported to the state.

And there's the rub.

We don't really know how York County is faring in the battle against COVID-19. We can see that after recording no deaths between April 9 and April 20, two have been reported in the past week, bringing the pandemic toll in the county to 1,497, and that while hospitalizations are averaging just under 12 per day over the past two weeks, there were 13 people hospitalized Wednesday in the county with COVID, down from 16 on Tuesday. 

In short, it's too early to declare that we have beaten COVID-19 and let down our guard. With more infections, there will inevitably be more variations, which means even more infections. Indoor gatherings remain a risk.

"As the weather improves, please use the opportunity to be outdoors! If distancing is not possible, please know masking is a way of protecting your loved ones and yourself," York City Medical Director Dr. Matthew Howie said. "We are seeing some family clusters of cases, so please be careful with distancing, hand washing and limiting social interactions when you do not feel well."

Mask mandates might not return, so it's time to urge people to think of the common good when considering their personal actions.

Remember, the fight is not for yourself alone. Keeping yourself safe from COVID by getting vaccinations and boosters and wearing a mask protects not only you but those around you who are more vulnerable and are feeling forgotten after two years of fighting for their lives against this deadly virus.

To mask or not to mask? If you have to ask, mask.