Bruce Blakeman’s first public act as Nassau County executive-elect, in the second week of December, was one of rebellion. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, had ordered mask use in indoor spaces where people gather to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Blakeman, a Republican, said he would defy the order, refusing to enforce it once he took office Jan. 1. The governor had left enforcement to the counties.
We understand Blakeman’s reluctance to reinstate a mask mandate. People have grown tired of obeying orders. Most of us just want our freedom back. We want our old pre-pandemic lives. We crave normalcy.
Apologies for the blunt language, but the coronavirus doesn’t give a damn about our desire to return to the way things were before all hell broke loose. It is a virus. It has an innate need to replicate, and to replicate it requires host bodies. Nature has granted the virus a seemingly incalculable ability to mutate to avoid eradication.
That is why we must do all in our power to eliminate the coronavirus — including wearing masks in public spaces. That is why the state mandate is necessary.
Blakeman has said there is little scientific evidence to demonstrate that masking reduces transmission of the coronavirus. That is not true. He only need look to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Science Brief from Dec. 6, titled “Community Use of Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2,” to find it.
The CDC cites numerous studies, conducted over the past two years in a variety of settings, demonstrating that mask wearing, when carried out properly, can reduce the transmission of Covid-19.
According to the CDC, at least 10 studies have “confirmed the benefit of universal masking in community level analyses.” The agency, considered one of the world’s leading authorities on infectious diseases, further states, “Each analysis demonstrated that, following directives from organizational and political leadership for universal masking, new infections fell significantly.”
Data from 200 countries, including the U.S., demonstrated reductions in the death rate as well.
Furthermore, the CDC concludes, “increasing universal masking by 15 percent could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion, or about 5 percent of the gross domestic product.”
If Blakeman is sincerely concerned about protecting the interests of Nassau businesses, as we firmly believe he is, then he will enforce the mask mandate to ensure that they stay open. No one — no one — wants the type of lockdowns that we are increasingly seeing in other countries. At some point soon, however, they could become inevitable if patients were to overwhelm our hospitals once again.
The Omicron variant, clearly far more transmissible than previous strains, has spread like wildfire across the U.S. over the past month. As of press time Monday, Long Island’s daily positivity rate stood at nearly 25 percent — the highest in the state, despite our high vaccination rate.
Preliminary data indicate that Omicron, which is fueling this most recent surge, may be less virulent and less deadly than previous strains. Given the exponential growth of this new form of the virus, however, we are seeing hospitalization rates rising fast, which, once again, is straining our health care workers, who are already worn out by nearly two years of battling a relentless foe. At least one president of a major Nassau hospital has asked the public to consider staying home for two weeks to minimize spread.
When Hochul enacted the indoor mask mandate on Dec. 10, it was supposed to last until Jan. 15. She recently extended it to Feb. 1. We urge Blakeman to consider enforcing it.
The county mustn’t fine businesses that are earnest in their efforts to carry out the mandate — as many have been. Without enforcement for egregious violators, however, there will be those who disregard the law entirely, and therein lies the problem.
To defeat this terrible, highly transmittable disease once and for all, we need a far greater sense of unity and resolve than we have shown to date. As a nation, we have always managed to summon our better angels and come together for a cause greater than ourselves. Now we are faced with yet another crisis of epic proportions that requires us to think beyond ourselves and do what is best for the greater good.