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A sign on the entrance of City Creek Center in Salt Lake City alerts patrons of Utah mask mandate in response to coronavirus. 
A sign on an entrance to City Creek Center in Salt Lake City alerts patrons to a government order requiring masks on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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Lifting mask mandates so soon will make someone look foolish in the end

Someone will end up looking foolish.

Either all those politicians who thought they could negotiate matters of science, or all those health officials warning of another surge.

Or perhaps it will be the wide swath of American people who have shown that, when it comes to even the smallest of sacrifices for public health — wearing a mask — they are, to use a popular slang term, “snowflakes.”

Given all the “greatest generation” did during the Depression and a world war, from dealing with ration cards to inventing local scrip to pay workers when dollars were scarce, this generation’s response to a pandemic has been, at times, pathetic.

Yes, a January poll by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics found that 87% of Utahns wear masks whenever they leave the house, but many people were dragged to that point over the past year kicking and screaming, and state politicians are more than eager to rip the things off, regardless of what science says.

Utah is hardly alone. The nation is ready to be done with face coverings.

Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, Wyoming and Montana already have lifted their mask mandates. Utah is set to do so, with some exceptions, on April 10, which, as Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious disease physician for Intermountain Healthcare, told KSL, is “a random date.”

“Honestly, I would say there’s no difference between April 9 and April 10,” he said.

Well, of course not. That ought to be obvious, unless something drastic happens on April 9 that changes the number of people vaccinated or the case count.

But what makes this struggle ridiculous is that mask-wearing has no negative effect on the nation’s economic recovery. On the contrary, in some states it’s the decision to do away with them that is hurting. The Texas Tribune reports at least four conferences canceled upcoming meetings in Austin because there is no mask mandate. That cost the Austin Hilton hotel about $350,000, Austin Convention Enterprises said.

Health officials nationwide are warning against lifting mask mandates before COVID-19 is fully under control and a measure of herd immunity is reached. They worry about a fourth wave that, although not as deadly as the other three, could be hardest on younger Americans, the last demographic to get a shot.

As of last weekend, ABC News reported 71.8% of Americans over 65 had received at least one dose of vaccine. In Utah, as of Sunday, 1,304,319 doses of a coronavirus vaccine had been administered and 477,700 people, roughly 15% of the state, were fully vaccinated.

That’s not nearly enough to pronounce the pandemic over, nor to say we’re not vulnerable to another surge. By April 10, even more people will be fully vaccinated, but probably not enough to come close to herd immunity.

On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke about the “recurring feeling I have of impending doom.” She said the nation has come so far with the approval of three effective vaccines, but added that some states are beginning to see a rise in cases once again.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared,” Walensky said. She pleaded for Americans to “just please hold on a little while longer.”

A “snowflake,” if you’re not familiar, is a pejorative for people who, according to Wikipedia, have “an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.”

Think of the people who showed up at public hearings, in violation of social distancing rules, to protest mask mandates. Think of the people you may have seen berating a store clerk who told them they had to put on a mask. Think of the politicians who picked a random date to take off masks because they just couldn’t take it anymore.

Maybe it will be the health professionals who end up looking foolish as mask mandates go away and case numbers fall. For everyone’s health, we can hope so.

But one day, when the pandemic really is over, passions subside and it’s time to count the lessons learned for the next time, I doubt the consensus will be that masks had nothing to do with keeping people alive and the economy going.

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