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Want to return to normal? Wear a mask

It is good news that schools in the North Country should be able to open in September with at least some form of in-person learning. Now, the hard work begins.

School districts have until July 31 to submit reopening plans to the state Education Department. There is much yet to be determined that interests many parents: how much of the school’s plan revolves in learning time outside of the classroom, how schools plan to get children to and from school, how school districts plan to disinfect schools on a regular basis and how districts that don’t have electronic devices for all students can make sure children have access to them by the time school begins.

The COVID-19 infection rate must be below 5% based on a 14-day average. If the infection rate is above 9% on a seven-day average after Aug. 1, schools will close. The final formula decision will be made the week of Aug. 1 to 7.

Many children need to be in school both to learn and for emotional growth. The status of many families’ jobs relies on school being in session, too. For all those carping about mask wearing and freedom should remember that too big an increase in COVID-19 infections, regardless of hospitalization rates, means the upcoming school year could be pulled away in the drop of a hat.

Not everyone loves Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor his policies. That’s fair. He is far from perfect. The sound of the man’s voice, to many in our area, sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. He made a major mistake early in the pandemic crisis by sending COVID-19 patients to recover in nursing homes, where many vulnerable residents died. To many, Cuomo’s new requirement that bars must serve food or shut down — chips aren’t enough, but chips and salsa are — is nonsense.

But it’s also fair to say that Cuomo is the governor, and right now, he makes the rules, using emergency powers granted to him by the state Legislature. No amount of complaining is going to change that fact.

More importantly, this isn’t about politics; it’s a matter of life or death. We are faced with a virus that has killed roughly 615,000 people worldwide, including some 144,000 in the U.S. and more than 32,000 right here in New York.

If we want life to return to normal, including some semblance of a normal school year, it is incumbent on us to make sure the COVID-19 infection rate remains low. Wear a mask when you can’t social distance.

Don’t tell us this is little worse than the flu; that’s just wrong. Don’t use the excuse that health experts discouraged people from wearing masks back at the beginning of this pandemic; none of us knew much about it then. Now experts say everyone wearing masks is the best thing we can do to keep this thing from getting worse.

The governor, like him or not, is trying hard to get people to do the right things — the things that will get us better again most quickly. If you don’t want to do it for him, fine — wear a mask for yourself and your family and friends. But just do it.

Like the Great Depression and the world wars, the coronavirus is a crisis we all face. We all have to do our part to slow its spread; otherwise we let thousands more die.