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Editorial: Missouri needs a dang mask order. Now.

Editorial: Missouri needs a dang mask order. Now.

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Not that anyone should still need it, but there is now further proof of the effectiveness of wearing masks against the coronavirus. An ongoing St. Louis University study comparing infection rates of St. Louis-area counties where masks are and aren’t required confirms the obvious: Mask mandates dramatically lower the transmission rate. Even Missouri Gov. Mike Parson now encourages citizens to mask up.

So why does he continue to resist implementing a statewide mask order, as other Republican governors have finally started doing?

Many GOP leaders are finally getting the message: Masks are not (or shouldn’t be) a culture-war issue. They are an effective tool to mitigate this deadly pandemic. The need has never been more acute with more than a quarter-million Americans dead, infection rates rising, hospitals filling up and the holiday season and coming winter expected to spawn even higher spikes.

Republican governors in Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, Ohio and elsewhere have recently instituted or expanded mask orders in their states. They have belatedly joined Democratic governors who were quicker to take action. In doing so, they’re finally bucking a counterproductive notion among too many conservatives — bolstered by election-season political positioning — that mask mandates are a “freedom” issue.

No, like seat belt laws and public smoking bans, they’re a health issue. It’s tragic that it has taken so many deaths for some politicians to figure that out. “I don’t want to do this,” Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week as she reversed her longstanding opposition to mask orders and imposed one. She cited “the cost in human life” of continued resistance.

That largely partisan resistance helps explain why, according to a study last month out of the University of North Carolina, Democratic-run states have, on the whole, done a better job of controlling the virus than Republican-run states.

The St. Louis University study, still awaiting peer review, looked at the specific issue of whether a given jurisdiction requires masks. As the Post-Dispatch’s Bryce Gray reports, it found that mask mandates in St. Louis city and county dramatically slowed infection rates this summer as compared to surrounding counties without such mandates.

Parson has come a long way since earlier this year, when he infamously dismissed suggestions that he should encourage anyone to wear a “dang mask.” After contracting and recovering from the disease himself, he has started to set a better example. Last week, he acknowledged Missouri’s spiking infections and urged citizens to avoid large Thanksgiving gatherings.

Good. But Parson’s promise that his administration will do “everything we can” to confront the rising infections rings hollow when he’s pointedly still refusing to do one big thing: Drop the ideological nonsense and impose a statewide mask order — now. It’s past time.

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