This is an important week for Berkshire County and Massachusetts as the reopening of the economy takes some significant steps. With many other states, primarily in the South and Southwest, experiencing spikes in COVID-19, our state and its residents must learn from their examples and exercise caution going forward.
As of Monday, Massachusetts restaurants could allow patrons indoors for the first time since March ("The Checkup: What's the appetite for indoor dining?," Eagle, June 22). There will be seating limits to accommodate social distancing, so restaurants will not be at full capacity, but it is likely that patrons will be easing their way from takeout to dining indoors again. Also, as of Monday, offices could return to half their normal workforce levels.
Massachusetts — specifically the section of the state from Route 495 east — was among the states hardest hit by the coronavirus in March and April. One of the last two states to reopen their economies under a phased program mandated by Gov. Baker, the state has seen a dramatic reduction in COVID-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks.
In contrast, Florida, Arizona and several other states are experiencing increases in coronavirus cases that are bringing them back to March levels. In general, these are states that abandoned lockdowns early and aggressively. Some of their communities have also been host to large social gatherings where masks were rarely worn and social distancing practices were ignored.
In a country where just about everything becomes politicized, it is hugely unfortunate that the wearing of masks has become a political litmus test of some kind. The refusal of President Trump and members of his administration to wear masks in public has emboldened his supporters to decline to wear masks as well.
Many city and state officials have refused to mandate the wearing of masks in public because to do so would supposedly violate the "rights" of people not do so, thus undermining their freedoms. This simplistic argument ignores the reality that people have a larger right not to be sickened by people too self-involved to wear masks in public. The concept of the common good has largely been lost in many sections of the U.S. and its absence is sorely felt during the pandemic.
In Massachusetts, masks are mandatory. In Berkshire County we are pleased to see people wearing them without exception in grocery stores and retail establishments, and we applaud businesses for enforcing this directive. This enables us to be cautiously optimistic that the next phase of reopenings will be successful in the Berkshires. The county and the state have come too far to go backward now, as other states have. Going forward requires caution and realism about the challenges posed by the pandemic that still must be met and overcome.