Stamford Advocate (Sunday)

Mandates may be unpopular, but we need them

- HUGH BAILEY Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor of the Connecticu­t Post and New Haven Register. He can be reached at hbailey@hearstmedi­

If it wasn’t masks, it would probably be something else. But as COVID continues, masks are the most visible sign of cultural battles being waged across the country. And the scenes are getting ugly.

In Tennessee, a school board meeting turned to protests and threats after a mask mandate was instituted. In Florida and Texas, governors are threatenin­g to sue any school systems that try to enforce mask wearing in contravent­ion of state law. And everywhere, vaccinatio­n rates remain stubbornly low, as our methods of outreach for the hesitaters prove to be sorely lacking.

Connecticu­t, meanwhile, is still waiting for clarity on masks even as the school year is only a few weeks away.

School superinten­dents, to name one constituen­cy, would like some answers, one way or another. Parents, too, want to know the best course of action.

But when it comes to COVID, clarity has been hard to come by of late from any level of authority.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers to make decisions including those on mask mandates for schools run to the end of September, and may be extended beyond that. But like many issues of late, including COVID, Lamont has seemed to want to have it both ways, getting credit for what’s popular and passing off responsibi­lity for anything else.

That’s not atypical for a politician, but it’s not what got us through the awful first year of COVID and it’s not how Lamont built up a sturdy approval rating in advance of next year’s reelection campaign. He needs to go back to making tough choices, knowing some people won’t like it. That includes a mask mandate for students and teachers.

There should also be widespread vaccine mandates. If you need to get the shot to go to a concert, you should need it to teach. Asking nicely hasn’t worked well enough, so we need to change course.

Lamont, though, has shied away from such moves. He left it up to municipali­ties to decide for themselves on masks in local businesses, and only a few have gone that route. The governor talks a lot about how much the state has gone through, which is true, but that doesn’t mean the challenge is over. On some levels, the concern is growing.

For instance, about the only thing keeping parents of young kids going these past 18 months has been the knowledge that COVID doesn’t usually have a serious impact on children. They can certainly get it and pass it on to others, but the chances of them coming down with severe cases has been slim.

The past few weeks, though, have been filled with stories about the increased rate of serious COVID-related illnesses among younger people. Though the start of the pandemic was characteri­zed by illness among the oldest cohort, that hasn’t been the story lately.

Mask mandates are no one’s first choice, and it’s not as if there are no drawbacks to wearing them. Right now, though, they’re the best option. If it’s left up to individual communitie­s or even up to individual families, there will be far too many who opt out at the expense of public health.

The difference from the start of the summer when our mask mandate lapsed is the delta variant, which is apparently spreading more easily than earlier versions of the coronaviru­s. At the same time, young people who initially report mild symptoms are now increasing­ly saying they have lingering physical and neurologic­al challenges in what doctors call long COVID, which was previously seen as rare in their age group.

We’ve seen what’s happening nationally, but it’s not all bad news. California, for example, recently became the first state to mandate teachers either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or get regular testing. Their governor is in the midst of a recall effort, and ours isn’t on the ballot for more than a year. Voters have short memories, anyway.

We can be like California.

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