Gov. Phil Scott is offering hints that instead of asking Vermonters to wear masks, he may require them to. Let’s hope so. It’s a small ask, with potentially huge returns.

It’s not that Vermonters have flouted general guidelines when it comes to wearing masks, or social distancing. To the contrary, we’ve been pretty good. Better than almost anywhere else in the country.

But we’re not a self-contained state. As states across the nation — particularly in the south and west — see the number of their cases explode, the worry grows that it’s only a matter of time before outside influences begin to affect us.

The Centers for Disease Control this week released data showing that in different parts of the country the number of people infected with the coronavirus was two to 13 times what is being reported. That means a huge number of people are spreading the disease unaware they are even infected.

As large a number as that might be, it still is a long way from being enough to produce herd immunity.

So, as long as Vermont continues to welcome visitors from elsewhere, and Vermonters leave for elsewhere and come back, the chances increase that we will have our own little outbreaks, which is why the crisis won’t be over until a slew of proven vaccines are available.

In the meantime, we have to do everything we can to keep the disease at bay. Mandatory wearing of masks is one of those things.

The truth of the matter is that the mask order should not be something done state to state, it should be a national policy, something that is blatantly obvious as we continue to watch our case rates soar, along with a surge in the number of deaths. According to the University of Texas Covid-19 analysis, the nation’s death rate will hit over 2,000 daily by mid-August, which is only slightly below the peak death rate set in mid-April. That mid-August projection is a dramatic increase from the mid-June figures.

Mr. Scott and his team have to be looking at the same figures, coming to the same conclusions. Above all, we do not want to shut down the state’s economy again. We want to have our students go back to school — in person. We don’t want our hospitals shuttered to normal business, having to prepare for a wave of Covid-patients.

Rather than have mask wearing be optional, it’s better and safer, to have the policy be uniform and mandatory. It also removes the hassle for those running businesses or services. If it’s understood that everyone has to wear a mask, then no one has to explain to a patron why one business requires them and another doesn’t.

If the rest of the country had reacted to the virus as has Vermont, today’s issues would not exist. But they didn’t. And we had a president who encouraged their nonchalance. What we have before us is the consequence.

If, as a state, or as a nation, wearing masks reduces the Covid-19 case load, and reduces our death rate, and allows us to keep our economy open, then it’s a small, small price to pay.

by Emerson Lynn

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