Back in the day you could tell the bad guys by the masks they wore. How ironic that these days it seems to be the other way around. Those not wearing masks are becoming the bad guys.

Back then the masked guys were outlaws. Maybe it’s time for today’s unmasked to be called outlaws, too.

Time and again Gov. Tate Reeves and state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs have urged, cautioned, and pleaded with us to wear masks, social distance, and avoid crowds to help the state cope with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“It is important that when you go out in public that you wear a mask,” said Reeves. “Please do it. It protects not only yourself, but it shows that you care enough to protect your fellow Mississippians.”

We're seeing “widespread abandonment” of following these guidelines,” Dobbs told the Jackson Free Press. “You can only do so much, but people refuse to do what can be done to prevent transmission.”

“My head is sore from banging it on the wall,” Dobbs told WLBT. “Wear masks, social distance, don’t do mass gatherings and certainly follow the rules.”

Many young people are among the bad actors. They go out socializing in groups, get the coronavirus, and take it back home to their parents or grandparents, Dobbs said.

Since Reeves re-started Mississippi’s economy on May 28 and let his Safer at Home executive order expire on June 1, the state’s main line of defense against COVID-19 has been voluntary, “personal responsibility” to wear masks, social distance, and avoid crowds.

“There is no government replacement for your personal responsibility and wisdom,” said Reeves.

That line of defense has not worked very well.

Mississippi is one of 17 states that has seen increases in the number of people hospitalized by the virus, reported WAPT. This is happening during the summer months, when health leaders thought the case numbers would be dropping.

The Wall Street Journal ranked Mississippi as the number three hot spot in the country as both daily new cases and total deaths topped 1,000 last week. Only Florida and Arizona had higher ratios of positive test results.

The Jackson Jambalaya blog also reported the rate of virus transmission had surpassed 1, meaning each infected patient is now infecting more than one other person.

Dobbs told the Sun-Herald that hospitals may be overrun this fall at the rate COVID-19 is spreading “because so many Mississippians fail to follow simple public health guidelines.” The state’s hospitalization rate has surged to the second-highest level in the country.

“We are not in good shape,” Dobbs said.

It’s time, if not past time, for Mississippi to join 17 other states and outlaw risky behavior by mandating that masks be worn in indoor public spaces and outdoors where social distancing can't be maintained.

Failure to take strong action now risks another economy-disrupting shelter-in-place lock down and parent-disrupting school closures this fall.

"Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin," James 4:17.

Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.

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