If you haven’t done so already, it’s time for you to put the mask back on.

There are so many coronavirus patients in the hospital here right now that they’re taking up half the available space on the medical floor. Seven are on ventilators. They’re approaching the all-time high for the number of COVID-positive patients.

Meanwhile the numbers community-wide are spiking, and other illnesses such as influenza and strep are picking up. The latter are probably just typical seasonal spikes — which, by the way, we didn’t have a year ago, since everybody was wearing masks and big gatherings were banned.

You would have expected coronavirus numbers to come down this winter, given that there’s a vaccine available, but only half of us have gotten the shot. So it’s still rampaging around, and the unvaccinated are the ones ending up in the hospital.

You should get the vaccine, of course, but if you’re reading this now, you’ve almost certainly already done so, or you’ve made up your mind otherwise but nonetheless have an interest in punishing yourself by reading an opinion-writer who continues badgering you.

Goes without saying. Get the dang vaccine.

If you’re vaccinated, you can still catch the virus, and so you can still pass it on. Hence the mask. Remember that a mask is not just there to protect you — it’s there to protect others. You don’t know which of the people you bump into have compromised immune systems, and so the right thing to do is to protect everybody.

Since there’s already a vaccine that’s free and widely accessible, it’s much more philosophically difficult to enact a mask mandate communitywide. I think such a mandate in the public school system makes sense, which is why the school board was set to consider it Monday night. They’ve also re-instituted mask requirements for employees in local government buildings, and one remains in effect on the K-State campus.

If you’re unvaccinated, the mask recommendation goes double. The variants that are running around now are more contagious, and so you’re more likely to catch and spread. You ought to avoid crowds.

I don’t like masks. They’re a hassle. They’re also not perfectly effective. But the public-health experts — including the head of the hospital, in a story you can read in tonight’s paper — keep asking us to wear them, and I think the only responsible thing to do now is to listen to them.

If the past is any guide, this wave will come and go, and sometime this spring we’ll be able to quit wearing them again. A year from now, if we’re fortunate, we won’t be in this position, because some more people will have gotten the vaccine, and more people will have caught the virus. I certainly hope that none of the people who get it die from it. But that’s statistically almost impossible. Such is the grim reality we’re living in right now.

In the interest of minimizing grimness, put the mask on.

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