I watched the live-streamed meeting between city, county, public and private health officials last Wednesday, and must say I am concerned by the responses of some of the government officials and Katie Dempsey, Rome’s state representative, after the public and private health officials spoke.

All the health officials appeared to be in agreement that a mask mandate is very much needed to bring our current COVID-19 crisis under control. And after a number of studies since the pandemic began have shown the effectiveness of cloth face masks to slow the spread of the disease, there should no longer be questions as to the need for compliance by the majority of the people.

But a few government officials seemed to not really be listening.

One concern against a mandate was the ability to enforce it with the police already spread thin. First, most Floyd Countians are law-abiding people. As with seat belt laws, the majority will comply (some grumbling) if it is a law.

Also, businesses then have the backing of the city and county to require their customers wear masks, which the Harbin clinic representative said would be very helpful. This is a public health issue — and just as restaurant and store owners can dictate that shoes and shirts must be worn for the good of public health, they can surely do the same for masks.

That handles most of the enforcement issues.

One commissioner seemed to think the current rate of infection is too small to be concerned with. He obviously does not realize how quickly this infection can spread, that it spreads exponentially, and how soon it can overwhelm our healthcare system — particularly our healthcare workers — if the spread goes unchecked. He needs to do some reading on the topic before making decisions that affect his constituency.

Rep. Dempsey urged that we “request” people wear masks, not mandate it. I want to point out that Gov. Kemp has been “requesting” people to wear masks for over a week now, even taking a statewide tour to encourage people to wear masks. But I see no change in the numbers of people shopping and wearing masks — and I am no longer patronizing many of the local businesses here as I don’t feel safe to spend time inside their buildings.

I commend Rome City Schools for stating masks will be a requirement for students and staff. I wish the Floyd County school board would commit to the same — just as they do with immunizations — for the good of the children, their staff, and the parents and other household members.

I won’t go into all the stats on why this is a good idea. The government officials all have access to the information they need — and that many of their constituents don’t have. This is where being a representative truly has meaning. Do what’s best for the public good even if not all the public understands why you are doing it.

The longer we put off taking solid, decisive steps to contain this pandemic, the longer it will be before we can return to “normal.” The vast majority of us can wear masks without issue, and that — along with clean hands and avoiding crowds — is what we need to stop the spread.

Amy Knowles is the former night editor and editorial page content manager for the Rome News-Tribune.

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