Mask mandate (copy)

Council Member Madison Davis dons a mask at a recent City Council meeting.

The ability to compromise is a lost art. In today’s hyper-partisan, social-media-fueled climate, public debate sounds like a grade-school spat that teachers referee on the playground.

So our instinct is to admire Mayor Bill McMurray’s attempt to strike a Solomonic compromise on the politically charged issue of whether to require masks in public, to help curtail spread of the coronavirus. We’re trying, but boy is it hard to warm to a face mask mandate limited to indoor places of 10,000 square feet or more.

One of the council’s own experts, laboratory physician Chakshu Gupta, referenced the flaw in the council’s reasoning in a work session earlier this month.

“The risk is higher in smaller, confined spaces,” Gupta said. “So, requiring masks only for businesses that are greater than a certain square footage is actually looking at it backward.”

Put it this way: There’s a lot more elbow room in a Walmart than a Waffle House. Guess which one the city singles out (although many businesses have their own rules on masks)?

The frustration for someone like Gupta must be that masks are treated as an emotional issue rather than a scientific one. At a City Council meeting in Springfield, Missouri, one citizen even compared a mask mandate to Jews being forced to wear yellow stars during the Nazi era, as if wearing a piece of cloth while shopping is in any way comparable to the industrial scale annihilation of 6 million human beings.

This kind of thinking is ridiculous, but on a compounded basis it is successful in creating squeamishness among those who feel strongly about masks or at least see them as a better alternative to a total shutdown of schools and businesses. Some don’t even want to call them masks, instead preferring the more sanitized term of “face covering.” It’s sort of like calling a used car a pre-owned vehicle.

This lack of conviction took its final, shapeless form in the council’s July 9 work session. Councilman Madison Davis sidestepped a position on the mask issue and said he’d prefer the mayor make the decision himself or put it up to the full council during a regular meeting.

The best you can say about this is that saying nothing is better than saying something stupid, like Gov. Mike Parson declaring that students who get COVID-19 will “go home and they’re going to get over it.”

The worst you can say is that Davis won’t find himself in the next edition of “Profiles in Courage.”

The council gets another chance to review its coronavirus rules, and possibly make a stronger statement, at tonight’s work session. The city’s elected leadership, in considering a more coherent policy on masks (and face coverings), would be wise to consider the advice of Napoleon Bonaparte.

“If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”