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Editorial: ‘Who was that masked man?’ Let it be Trump

“With the masks, it is going to be really a voluntary thing. You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it.”

– President Donald J. Trump, April 3

“… I had a mask on. … It was a dark, black mask, and I thought it looked OK. Looked like the Lone Ranger. But, no, I have no problem with that. I think – – and if people feel good about it, they should do it.”

– President Donald J. Trump, July 1

Months into the coronavirus pandemic, and weeks into a terrifying new surge of cases, our country needs some real leadership on the national stage. If the person delivering it thinks he looks like the Lone Ranger and is moving his rallies outside, finally, those are steps in the right direction.

But they are long overdue, and they are not enough.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to date there are just shy of 3 million COVID-19 cases in the United States and more than 130,000 deaths. America is among the countries with the worst outbreaks (along with Brazil, Peru and Sweden). And while the conventional wisdom on how the virus acts and how best to keep it at bay has been evolving, this month 239 scientists in 32 countries have banded together to beg the World Health Organization to revise its recommendations and focus more on mask-wearing and less on hand-washing.

Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viruses at Virginia Tech, told the New York Times “We’ve known since 1946 that coughing and talking generate aerosols.” Turns out the virus may hang in the air for a period of time rather than quickly falling in respiratory droplets to the floor, meaning you breathe it up.

And while the scientists debate the number of microns the virus is vs. the size of openings in masks from homemade to N95, the consensus is overwhelming: Wearing masks saves lives.

With close to 50,000 new cases a day, it is better late than never that our president has moved on from his April 3 declaration he will not wear a mask. And in sharp contrast to having campaign workers rip social-distancing stickers from seats at his indoor Tulsa rally June 20, his rally Saturday in New Hampshire will be outdoors with “ample access to hand sanitizer and all attendees will be provided a face mask that they are strongly encouraged to wear.”

Yes, this evolution is moving much slower than the deadly virus, which clearly has gotten its second wind after folks let their guard down for gatherings around Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. And yes, wanting to return to “normal” is understandable.

But any semblance of normal requires we learn to live with this virus. And now that means wearing a mask. It is a message New Mexico’s governor hears – and sends – loud and clear. It is one the president should as well.

Journal reader Bob Conway wrote this week “show everyone you meet or walk by (that) you respect their rights to a safe environment. Wear your mask!” And Carson Tate, 11, shared “if we don’t wear masks we could die or get very sick and be in a world of pain. If we do wear masks, we will save lives and protect ourselves and others from a world of pain.”

Health experts agree. Anthony S. Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), Elizabeth Connick (chief of the infectious diseases division and professor of medicine and immunobiology at the University of Arizona), Paul A. Volberding (emeritus professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC-San Francisco), Linda Bell (South Carolina’s state epidemiologist), Barry Bloom (former dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) and David Satcher (former U.S. surgeon general and CDC director) all told The Washington Post this week they wear masks when they leave their homes. Period.

Also this week, syndicated Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who was assistant to President George W. Bush for policy and strategic planning, wrote “there are two options here. Either Americans will be rudely jerked toward sanity by the sight of rapidly filling graves, or leaders of determination and talent will rise above the self-destructive strife and make deliverance from illness and death a unifying national cause.”

Mr. President, you have never been shy about using strong language. Use it now to urge Americans to wear a mask, and set the example by wearing one yourself. American lives depend on it.

Hi-Yo Silver, away!

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.