Editorial | You don’t have to like COVID precautions, just follow them

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.(Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Greg Gianforte, the Republican governor of Montana, lifted the state’s mask mandate on Friday, a choice that many have disputed.

Upon taking office, he promised to lift the mandate once businesses and health care providers had liability protections, and once a significant number of high-risk individuals received a COVID-19 vaccine. But only about 51,000 of Montana’s residents — less than 5% of the state’s population — have received both doses of the vaccine.

Elected officials in Iowa, North Dakota and Mississippi have also lifted their mask mandates in past weeks. Though many people in these states will continue to wear masks regardless of whether or not a mandate is in place — including Gianforte — taking away the mandate is a threat to public health and safety. With the new variants of the coronavirus on the rise and vaccinations slowly but surely increasing, it’s more important than ever that the United States takes the pandemic seriously.

We need elected officials, from the national level all the way down to local governments, to continue enforcing pandemic restrictions regardless of how unpopular they may be with their constituents. It’s the only way to ensure that case numbers continue to fall and to help our country recover as quickly as possible.

While some cite the improving rate of vaccinations as a reason to relax restrictions, about 4% of the population is fully vaccinated. To achieve herd immunity, scientists first estimated that at least 60% of the population needed to be exposed to the coronavirus — whether through infection or vaccination. Since then, some people, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have estimated that the actual percent of the population who need to be resistant to achieve herd immunity is much higher.

“We really don’t know what the real number is,” Fauci said in December. “I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90%. But, I’m not going to say 90%.”

Fauci admitted he wanted to avoid telling the public outright that 90% of the country needed to be resistant to achieve herd immunity because it could make people lose hope. That’s a huge portion of the population, and with the current availability of vaccines and people’s willingness to accept them — or lack thereof — it would be exceptionally hard to reach that mark.

Regardless, it is important that people acknowledge that a large portion of the population will need the vaccine, and even then, we will likely need to continue masking. These are unpleasant facts, but they’re still facts. We’re all living in the same pandemic, and it’s not popular with anyone. We simply have to deal with the reality of the situation and do what we can to reduce the risk of transmission.

Now is not the time for the country to let its guard down. We need elected officials to stop relaxing restrictions and take the pandemic seriously. They have to lead by example and show citizens that this pandemic can — and will — end if everyone will just follow the rules.

Masks are necessary. Social distancing is necessary. Common sense is necessary. Follow the COVID-19 precautions that our federal and state governments have put in place, and maybe we’ll get out of this mess and back to something that feels semi-normal by this time next year.

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