Our View: We must not allow COVID-19 to divide us




"Do you know the enemy?


Do you know your enemy?


Well, gotta know the enemy"



-- Green Day



There are two things that can be reasonably assumed when it comes to the recent dispute between a local merchant and city officials over the mask mandate in the city of Columbus.


First, city officials are not out to ruin local businesses. Second, store owners don't want your Aunt Sally to die from COVID-19.


The city's mask mandate has been in place since July 7 when the city council voted unanimously to require all citizens to wear masks in indoor public places, including retail stores.


In the ensuing 3 ½ months, the mask requirement has been largely taken in stride by both businesses and customers alike.


Even when the Governor's statewide mask mandate expired on Sept. 30, there was little demand from the public to end local mask ordinances. At a board of aldermen meeting in Starkville, one alderman proposed ending the local mask ordnance, but no citizens spoke in support of his motion, which died for a lack of a second.


But that relative quiet ended over the weekend in Columbus when Blaine and Corie Walters posted a pair of Facebook Live videos that claims they are being targeted by the city for their outspoken opposition to mask requirements. Between Oct. 6 and Oct. 16, police visited the Walters' business, the Bride and Groom Bridal Boutique, four times. Police used the first visit to inform the business of the mandate requirements. On the last visit, both of the Walters and a store employee were issued citations for not wearing masks.


The city disputes the Walters' targeting claim, saying the police department's policy is to respond to reports of violations when they are notified someone is not in compliance. Considering the city used initial visits only to inform the Walters, a claim of targeting or harassment doesn't seem to hold up, even though the city has not been able to provide The Dispatch with an exact number of issued mask mandate citations.


But let's pause for a moment to acknowledge something very important: It's been a difficult year for our local business owners. Their livelihoods and the financial security of their families and their employees have been seriously challenged.


In such a situation, business owners look to city governments for help, not obstacles.


Certainly, city governments should do whatever they can do to promote local businesses, but not at the expense of public health.


As has been noted all along, COVID-19 is both a threat to both public health and economic security.


That leaves cities facing a delicate and difficult balancing act and all measures should be imposed only after careful deliberation.


The bottom line in all of this is knowing the enemy.


The enemy isn't city government.


It isn't the business community, either.


The enemy is COVID-19.


Regardless of your opinion about the dispute between the Walters and the city, nothing good can come from this situation. This is not a time to take sides against one another and certainly not the time to impugn the motives of either party.


When such divisions occur, it weakens our resolve and our ability to fight the real enemy.


We must not allow the pandemic to divide and conquer.


Gotta know the enemy.




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