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Local leaders show true leadership in extending mask mandates

Mahatma Gandhi, in describing an ineffective leader, once quoted that leader as saying “there goes my people, I must hurry to catch up with them for I am their leader.”

For anyone who knows and appreciates good leadership, no leader, no person of so-called authority, can lead from behind. Rather, they should lead by example, from the front. And never has leadership been tested more, or put under the spotlight more, than during this months-long pandemic.

As we have said before, all we can ask of our leaders – from those at the local level, all the way up to the White House — is for them to do the very best they can, to make the best decisions possible with the best information possible. We have said before that responding to this pandemic came without a playbook, came without a set of instructions, and that we were all in this together.

That is why now, with so much information and so many lessons learned, that the decision Wednesday by Gov. Tate Reeves to let the state’s mask mandate expire is so confusing.

Today, with the numbers of new cases locally and on the state level far lower than when city, county and statewide mask mandates were ordered, it is difficult to understand why Reeves would consider letting the mask mandate — a measure that many argue has been the most effective in slowing the spread of the virus — lapse.

Even though Reeves’ new executive order requires masks to be worn in nearly every situation, the mere optics of his decision is a signal of poor leadership.

In the days and weeks leading up to Reeves ordering the state mask mandate on Aug. 4, many of Mississippi’s cities and counties had already put their own mandates in place. The governor seemed hesitant to order such a mandate even when state medical officials and medical associations had urged — downright begged — the governor to order one. He resisted and followed.

Leadership is not about making popular decisions, even if you’re an elected official. It is about making the best decisions with the best information possible. In this case, Reeves had the information that masks worked and yet still decided to let the order expire.

Thankfully, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and the Warren County Board of Supervisors, who each ordered city and countywide mask mandates weeks before the governor ordered the state mandate, have said they intend to keep the local mandates for at least another month.

We know that decision by local officials is not popular. We know there will be those who criticize their decisions. But, it is the best decision with the best information.

Since the mask mandates have been in place in Vicksburg and Warren County, we have seen the number of new cases of the virus plummet. In short, the mask mandate, in conjunction with other orders, has worked. It has saved lives.

The leadership shown by our local leaders is appreciated, even if it does lead to a bit of an inconvenience. It shows that our leaders are leading from the front and not hurrying to chase down their people.