We can reverse recent failures in local leadership

Masks would slow the spread of COVID-19. Medical professionals locally and nationwide see it that way. Two county commissioners said they saw it that way. Multiple Newton City Commissioners said masks would help with COVID -19.

But many people do not wear masks in public, and in that sense, a mask order would have helped. However, the Harvey County Commission made a political and not practical decision last week when it decided to override the governor’s order for statewide masks. In doing so, it rejected the public health officials whom our tax dollars pay to advise the commission.

The Newton Commission debated an ordinance it drafted to fill the county commission’s leadership hole, but it ended up with a possible resolution recommending masks.

There were so many strong reasons and people in favor of such a rule. The COVID-19 spread and uptick that we’re experiencing county-, region-, state- and nationwide would be slowed. Businesses wouldn’t have the burden of setting mask requirements and then dealing with angry customers for or against masks. More people would have felt comfortable circulating in the economy. We’d have taken progressive steps to make sure we don’t have a large-scale outbreak and our hospitals get stretched to the limit. We’d have been in a far better place health wise when schools were opened. Oh, and we’d have the possibility of saving the lives of friends, neighbors and family members.

The arguments against, that masks are somehow dangerous or unconstitutional, were weak. It was constitutional, according to the Republican Kansas Attorney General. Enforcing an ordinance or executive order would be no different than an enforcement of a seat belt law. Masks don’t pose a risk to healthy people, but they do prevent the spread of COVID-19, as supported by study after peer-reviewed study.

We do feel for the people saying that health conditions prevent them from wearing masks. Many of these people would benefit the most from healthy people all wearing masks. Mask ordinances had exemptions for those who had anxiety and breathing conditions.

But despite the experts lined up in favor of an easy option to help fight this COVID-19 saga that never seems to end, elected officials opted against.

At this point, it would be easy to blame those elected officials. It would be easy to blame the county commission as a whole for rejecting sound advice from its health director and chief medical officer.

It would be easy to blame Randy Hague, who as a county commissioner and public health board member, told businesses it was time they took responsibility for themselves instead of looking to the county commission to set public health policy.

It would be easy to blame Chip Westfall, who seemed to make a case for such a mask requirement, then waivered when he saw the vote wouldn’t pass.

It would be easy to blame Ron Krehbiel, whose argument against was basically that people might be unhappy with the county or sheriff’s office, should they have upheld the governor’s ruling.

It might be easy to blame the city commissioners, as well, for declining to clean up the mess left by the county commission and enforcing their own ordinance. Some seemed to have their minds made up despite the feedback they received from residents. The city commission received the same advice as the county. They had the hospital speak to them. The had the chamber speak to them in favor. They received a large number of community members asking for a mask ordinance. And they, too, caved to partisan politics and Facebook trolls.

But, as all those people could be blamed, we must always look first at ourselves. How do we hold blame, and what can we do to move forward?

No mask ordinance or requirement would ever have been needed if people behaved with courtesy and stopped drinking the sewage of politics. Masks are simply a public health issue. They’re not mind control. They’re not the first step to genocide. They’re not some grand conspiracy theory. They’re just a way to make sure you don’t get other people sick.

And many people are incapable of understanding that because their brains have been rotted by Facebook and cable TV and echo chambers. Others are unwilling to understand courtesy, because they think their number one right as an American is to care about no one but themselves. And, far too often, the rest of us have been unwilling to point out this behavior and tell them you can’t serve your community or country by simply serving yourself.

The only reason we talked about ordinances was because so many of us have been unwilling to act and care for the good of others. That’s not a new tenant. That’s a core tenant of Christianity as well as so many other religions. That used to be the basis of what it meant to be an American.

So we have to be better. We have to persevere.

For the folks rejoicing at the recent rulings, we’d hope they’d be respectful and remain six feet away from everyone else and would avoid gathering in large numbers and avoid instances that could take hospital beds away from people taking COVID-19 more seriously.

And for those upset, we pray that COVID-19 will go away, but we don’t think that will be the case. There may come a day when cases or deaths continue to rise and prompt the county commission or city commission to do something. You can continue to apply pressure. Do so tomorrow or every day if you feel inclined. We have a lot of retired readers as well as those with higher risks of COVID-19 complications. What better way to start each day than a phone call to your elected officials?

If we want to live in a country where we have the freedom to make our own decisions about everything, we have to understand that those decisions come with responsibility. And the more irresponsibly other people act, the worse our own lives become.

What we have seen is that we as a people fall woefully short of the responsibilities that come with the freedoms we enjoy. And we lack the wisdom to make the best decisions for the overall good of the nation to which we owe such freedoms.

We can all do better. Let’s work on that and take care of each other. It’s clear and apparent there’s no branch of government that’s willing to do so. We’re on our own.

So put on a dang mask, if you’re able; be a decent person; make your phone calls or send your emails; and keep Harvey County running and healthy.

-The Harvey County Now Editorial Board