Encouraging the public, even strongly encouraging the public, to wear a mask is not enough.

Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett made a serious mistake when he decided to not extend the Montgomery County mask order again. The county had required wearing masks, even when outdoors, except where they could maintain social distancing.

The county’s new mandate, Emergency Order 18, took effect Sept. 8. It requires employees in businesses that serve customers and cannot consistently maintain social distancing to wear masks. It no longer requires it of patrons of those businesses.

“Although we are lifting the personal mandate, we STRONGLY urge the general public to continue to wear masks and to social distance,” Durrett said in a letter to the community.

Removing the mandate sends out a message that COVID-19 precautions are not something to take seriously, which goes against everything the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said and continues to say.

The mask mandate itself is barely enough to enforce social distancing guidelines, which the CDC consistently reminds us is crucial to protecting ourselves and our communities.

Durrett extended the mask mandate on Aug. 28 to Sept. 7 and stated that cases in Montgomery County had dropped by nearly 100 in the previous 14 days. He attributed this to the effectiveness of the mask mandate.

This points again toward the mask mandate having a positive effect on reducing COVID-19 cases.

On Sept. 7, Interim President Dannelle Whiteside sent a message to the APSU community telling students that despite Montgomery County’s more relaxed policy, “Govs still wear masks.”

On Aug. 31, Whiteside reminded students that COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing a mask, apply both on and off campus. She cited a report of a student organization hosting an off-campus party of more than 30 people. One of the people at the party tested positive for COVID-19.

APSU is back in session and students are back on campus. Many new people are now entering the community who could potentially be carriers of the coronavirus. These students do not exist in a bubble. They eat at local restaurants. They mingle with the public, and they could spread COVID-19 — especially if there is no mask mandate.

The new emergency order continues to require people to wear masks in all city and county government facilities as well as public schools.

This action shows an understanding of the danger of not wearing masks, especially in large crowded areas such as schools.

The emergency order fails to account for the fact that these spaces do not exist in a vacuum.

Children, teachers and staff of those schools do not exist only in that space. Everywhere they go without a mask or surrounded by others without masks are places where they are potentially at risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 and bringing it back to the schools, to people who carry it back to their families.

Some say mask requirements infringe upon personal freedoms and the government had no right to mandate it in the first place.

Durrett himself noted that government’s role in this country has always included mandates.

“The government sets speed limits, creates zoning, develops ordinances, and sets policy,” Durrett said in his letter to the community.

Mandates exist within the natural structure of our government to resolve issues, to protect citizens. A speed limit is a mandate on how fast a citizen is allowed to drive their car, not to take away from their personal freedom to drive as fast as they want but to protect all the other drivers on the road beside them.

There is nothing personal about mandating the use of masks. It is not a slight against anyone or a reduction of their personhood. Nothing was truly lost with the mandate in place, but without it, countless lives are at stake and they are, of course, invaluable.

Montgomery County government can’t piecemeal social-distancing guidelines. Social distancing works the same way masks work: Everyone must participate. You wear a mask to protect me, and I wear one to protect you.