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Even Without Mandates, Masks Still Make Sense

Wed, 08/18/2021 - 18:36


Very few masks were in evidence during a walk around the downtown Montauk shops one evening this week, even as mandates are being re-imposed amid concerns about the Delta variant of Covid-19. Whether the absence of precaution is thanks to personal choice, a sense of security from being vaccinated, or simply not following the news about Covid-19 is difficult to say. Certainly there were those for whom not masking up was a political statement, but that would hardly seem to explain the near-total absence of this simple protection.

We were conversely struck by the seriousness with which East Hampton Town Justice Court officials were taking the public health crisis last week. Anyone entering the court building must either present proof of vaccination or submit to a brief round of questions and a temperature check. Those with proof of having had their shot or shots could proceed without masks; those without their vaccination cards or a state app ID cannot. A box of surgical-type masks sat on the sign-in table right before visitors stepped through a metal detector. In the courtroom itself, unrelated persons had to sit at least two chairs apart, and the bailiffs make certain that this rule is followed.

At in-person Town Hall meetings, too, masks were required last week; and as of Monday they are required at all town offices regardless of vaccination status. The City of New York this week said that visitors to cultural institutions must wear masks, as Covid numbers remain too high. At the East Hampton Library and others, masks are now a must again. And yet on the street and in the shops, bars, and restaurants, one would think there was no such thing as Covid-19. The contradiction is as plain as it is irresponsible.

Certainly the vaccines are near-miraculous, but they are no magic force field for everyone. Vaccinated people can still become ill with the coronavirus and transmit it to others even if they are not ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Only half of the United States population is fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C. The statistic is slightly better in Suffolk County, but, given the nature of the South Fork’s second-home and resort economies, that figure is almost meaningless. Think about that for a minute. It means that half of the people at that crowded Sag Harbor bar or out shopping for T-shirts in Montauk are not protected.

It seems to us, sadly, that the time has come again for indoor spaces to, at a minimum, suggest that masks should be worn — and make a supply of them near their doors available. These would be simple measures but ones that would convey a critical message that the risk remains and will for at least a while longer.

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