It has become increasingly clear the only way Oklahoma will reverse the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases will be for leaders at the upper echelons of the state to impose mandatory measures known to prevent community spread. 

A good first step would be for Gov. Kevin Stitt to ignore the efforts of some to politicize this pandemic and mandate masks be worn by those who are engaged in activities with increased risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus and community transmission. It doesn’t seem like too much of an ask to require people to strap on a mask while shopping or doing business — especially while inside enclosed spaces.

Researchers compile more evidence every day that shows wearing masks and maintaining safe distances between people curb the transmission rate of this airborne virus. Too many people ignore that evidence because some top officials have failed to lead and others would rather divide without regard to public health. 

Until a decision is made to lead — and unite — for the greater good we will continue to see new records set for the daily count of new cases and the demand for hospital beds increase. Even worse, look toward Texas: The governor there delayed plans to reopen businesses because of the state’s sudden spike in new cases. 

The National Bureau of Economic Research recently declared the United States entered a recessionary period a month before states began to order closures for nonessential businesses and urged residents to shelter in place. And Creighton University’s Business Conditions Index, which tracks Oklahoma’s leading economic indicators, has trended downward since 2018. 

Evidence of a contracting economy surfaced before this pandemic choked the economy — the novel coronavirus exacerbated what was occurring already. Ignoring the impact of the pandemic increased turmoil in the financial markets, forced the temporary closure of nonessential businesses, prompted safer-at-home orders, and spurred record high unemployment rates. 

With leadership, there is a sense of camaraderie. Without clear leadership, that unity began to fray and divisions appeared. Now Oklahoma — and those states that chose to ignore guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reopen too quickly — is seeing new cases being added to its cumulative total at a record pace. 

Oklahomans worked hard to flatten the curve back in March and April. It would be a shame to see that work be wasted because Oklahoma’s governor is too proud — or afraid — to issue a mandate to wear masks.

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