If there's any doubt about which direction we're going on COVID-19 in Montana right now, the past week or so is making it quite clear.
Even as the state tries to continue down the path of recovery, the pandemic is just not having it. If anything, COVID-19 seems to be back at peak levels in Montana.
A startling 37 cases statewide Thursday — the state's highest one-day total ever — brought the total of new confirmed cases to 174 over the past eight days.
We are in a curious and dangerous period.
We understand that everyone is over the pandemic. People are sick of restrictions, rebellious about mask-wearing and distancing, and eager to get on with life.
Trouble is, the pandemic is not over us. And as impatient and irritated and financially stressed as people are, risky behavior is more dangerous than ever.
While it was expected that cases would go up with reopening, there's a real risk that if precautions are not taken, the spike will be so great that harsher measures will be required, as is happening elsewhere.
In Texas, Arizona and Florida, case numbers are growing at record levels. We don't want to be in a position where a new stay-at-home order, complete with business closings, is imposed.
Let's protect our fledgling recovery by taking every possible precaution now.
"It's clear people are out and about more," said John Felton of RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County Health Officer. "If we can do the little things — keep distance, wash hands frequently, wear masks in public — we can make it safer for everybody.
"Doing this will make whatever we want to do, economically, or with our leisure time, much safer."
We thank Felton and all of the state's county health departments and public health workers for their superb public service in this pandemic to date. We understand the complexity and concerns that go into each decision about events and businesses and planning.
Occurrences like last week's in which a Legion baseball tournament was suddenly halted in Missoula — even as one involving several out-of-state teams started Wednesday in Bozeman — are unfortunate. We appreciate the need for on-the-fly, situational decision-making by health officials but we also see the necessity to send a consistent message to our cities and organizations.
Meanwhile, we urge Montanans to do everything possible to avoid a step backward in what is clearly going to be a lengthy, difficult recovery.
Remember, wearing a mask does not somehow indicate a lack of testosterone. And it is not a political statement.
Really, it's more of an IQ test.
So cowboy up, Montana, and mask up.
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