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People are dying; they don't have to.

It's time for a regional mask mandate.

The Joplin metro area of Jasper and Newton counties went from 80 COVID-19 deaths on Oct. 1 to 150 deaths Wednesday, including the six in the city reported yesterday — 70 deaths in 42 days.

That's more than 1.6 deaths a day now.

At this rate, that's another 24 deaths by Thanksgiving, another 70 deaths by Christmas, and another 80 deaths by New Year's Day. At this rate, it's another 225 deaths in the Joplin metro area by April 1, which is the earliest a vaccine might become available to all Americans, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

There's hope on the horizaon, but it's a far horizon; Fauci and other experts are warning us that the worst is yet to come this winter.

Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanley is right about the need to "do this as a region." He said this week that Joplin would only reconsider a mask requirement if nearby communities along with Jasper and Newton counties leaders participate.

“I think it’s more this is a regional health crisis, and we need to have a regional response,” Stanley said.

We already know that health departments are overwhelmed.

Ryan Talken, director of the Joplin Health Department, said Monday: “We have been stressed in being able to investigate all the cases. We do have a backlog of cases. We are working on a plan to deal with that. We are hoping cases level off. I have great staff at the COVID investigation center, but as cases climb, it makes it more challenging to investigate.”

A mandate will be unpopular, but if the tradeoff is 225 more people who survive the pandemic, who are alive this spring, and if the tradeoff keeps our health care system from becoming overwhelmed, the answer is obvious.

There's no argument about the effectiveness of masks; our neighbors in Kansas have proved that.

The only question is whether we're willing to do it — for just a few months until a vaccine can be distributed widely.

It's time to implement a regional mask mandate.

People are dying; they don't have to.

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