Most leading health officials — from Dr. Anthony Fauci on the federal level to Dr. Thomas Dobbs on the Mississippi one — have been urging for some time that people wear masks when in public to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.

More than a dozen states and numerous cities, including several in Mississippi, have mandated their wear. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday he is considering a statewide order.

So it’s not surprising that Greenwood jumped on board with a mandate, effective Thursday, that requires the wearing of masks or other facial coverings in most businesses and other indoor public spaces.

The purpose of the mask is twofold — to protect the people wearing them and also those with whom they may come into close contact. It certainly won’t hurt to wear one, and businesses and individuals should comply with the new law.

Don’t think, however, that it’s a certain safeguard. People have become infected despite wearing a mask either because the type of mask they wear is not impenetrable, or because they wear it incorrectly or sporadically, or because the coronavirus gets into their body through another channel, possibly their eyes.

Some of the arguments, however, used to support the mandate in Greenwood have been highly exaggerated, including claims that COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed here recently and that the hospital is on the verge of being overwhelmed by infected patients. The City Council resolution mandating the masks parroted those exaggerations and included one clear falsehood: namely, that “the City of Greenwood and Leflore County have experienced one of the largest spikes in COVID-19 results within the State of Mississippi over the past several weeks.”

The numbers tell a different story: namely, that cases and deaths are up, but not astronomically so, and relatively speaking, the spread of infection has been less severe here of late than in many parts of the state.

As a point of reference, during the 53 days in April and May when Greenwood was under a nightly curfew and most public venues were either closed or severely limited, Leflore County averaged just over four new COVID-19 cases a day and a death every 48 hours. In the 42 days since the curfew and other restrictions were lifted or relaxed, a time when many people allegedly abandoned their guard and went crazy, the daily case rate rose from four to six, and a death occurred on average every 35 hours.

Even that increase in deaths comes with a disclaimer: The majority of them occurred at nursing homes, none of which will be helped by this mask order, since they were already operating with that safeguard and a lot more, including no outside visitation.

The Harvard Global Health Institute — which is hardly a pandemic denier — has been tracking the rate of infection all over the country. It says that for the past week, ending on the day the City Council adopted the mask mandate, Leflore County averaged less than two new positive cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents daily. That infection rate was about a third below the state average, and it ranked just 58th of the state’s 82 counties — a rate six times less than top-ranked Grenada County.

This dive into the numbers is not meant to bore. It’s intended to encourage those in public office and in the medical community to not exaggerate the situation in an effort to sell a potentially unpopular decision or to scare people out of their wits, hoping that they will behave in a manner to which you would prefer.

The pandemic is serious enough without embellishment and fearmongering.

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