A recent statement by the Whitley County commissioners is a perfect illustration of why our country is dealing with yet another resurgence of COVID-19.

“In Whitley County, we believe masking and immunizations are a decision for individuals to make and should not be mandated,” read the statement issued by commissioners Chad Banks, George Schrumpf and Theresa Green.

The statement rejected the idea of mandatory quarantines.

“We believe individuals who may have been in close contact but show no COVID symptoms should be allowed to attend work or school without interruption,” the statement read. “We believe in a common-sense approach to COVID that allows for individual freedom.”

A reporter asked Indiana’s health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box, about the statement during a statewide briefing on the pandemic.

To her credit, Box remained calm. She pointed out what public health experts have known for months that it’s entirely possible to spread the virus even before you have the slightest indication you might be infected.

“That’s why this concept of people who are asymptomatic can go to school, people that are close contacts when people aren’t wearing masks can go ahead and go to school,” Box said. “That’s why that concept doesn’t work. That is absolutely incorrect and not an appropriate science-based decision-making process.”

An appropriate science-based decision-making process, of course, is what we have so often lacked during this pandemic.

Fort Wayne television station WANE Channel 15 asked the Whitley County commissioners what they thought of the state health commissioner’s response.

“The people of Whitley County are smart enough to do what’s right on their own without being ordered,” the commissioners said. “The intent of the statement was merely to say that we trust people to make their own choices on how best to handle this pandemic and don’t support the heavy-handed responses to the pandemic that mandate quarantine, masks or vaccines.”

Whitley County recently recorded 60 new cases of the virus in a single day. That’s the sort of statistic it was seeing in January.

As of Aug. 29, just over 48% of Whitley County residents eligible for a vaccine, more than 16,000 people, had been fully vaccinated. That means nearly 18,000 eligible residents had not.

During that Friday briefing, Box said things were likely to get worse. We might now be facing the darkest days of the pandemic, at a time when we have the tools to defeat this virus and simply refuse to do it.

At the time of the briefing, nearly 2,200 Hoosiers were hospitalized, the highest number since January. Four out of 10 health districts had used up more than 100% of the beds in their intensive care units.

Maybe the commissioners in Whitley County don’t want to issue a mask mandate or order constituents to get a vaccine. Heck, they might not even have the authority to do that.

At the very least, though, our elected leaders should be encouraging responsible behavior. They should be supporting the recommendations issued by public health officials.

In other words, rather than worrying so much about personal freedom, maybe they ought to be worrying about keeping people alive.
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