Saturday is the birthday of our country. But this Fourth of July will be different. There will be no large gatherings for concerts or baseball games. Old Glory Day was canceled in Chardon as was the bike parade in Chagrin Falls and fireworks in Solon.

Communities like Gates Mills are getting creative by modifying their annual Independence Day event with a virtual parade, house decorating contest, playing of patriotic music from the church in the center of town and taking a modified parade of cars down residential streets so people can stay at home.

This Fourth of July will stand out in history as the year of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has swept the globe since late last year, taking the lives of more than 510,000 people worldwide, including 129,000 in the U.S. and 2,863 in Ohio. According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, there are more than 10.4 million confirmed cases of the disease in the world, 2.68 million in the U.S. and 51,789 in Ohio as of earlier this week.

Though Ohio and other parts of the U.S. are reopening after a shutdown in mid-March, the virus is still very much here. It knows no state or political boundaries. It has no regard for gender, ethnicity or race. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. COVID-19 will infect whenever it has the opportunity. So, it is up to each one of us to limit the chances of spreading the virus.

Until there is a viable vaccine, health experts continue to advise us to wash our hands, stay at least 6 feet apart and wear a mask. Simple yet effective steps.

Yet wearing a mask has set off a firestorm of political controversy in Ohio and across the country. But, why? If we wear a mask, we are protecting you. Why not reciprocate?

Since Ohio began to reopen retail, gyms, restaurants and other businesses, we have seen a concerning trend. The average new daily cases of COVID-19 jumped from about 400 in early June to about 600 just last week. In the past few days, the daily increase was about 800 new cases in Ohio.

We can learn lessons from other states that opened up early and are experiencing the consequences. Just look at Texas, Florida and Arizona, now considered the latest epicenters of the disease.

It is disheartening to see Ohioans letting their guard down in public over the last few weeks. No masks, no regard for physical distancing. Who knows if hands are being washed? Some have even expressed outrage about wearing masks, claiming their freedom has been violated.

There is no mandate in Ohio to wear a mask. It’s simply a choice, and a wise choice.

We agree with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who said earlier this week that a mask is a symbol of freedom. If the majority of people – about 80 percent – wear a mask, the spread of COVID-19 would slow down significantly, he said.

We learn from history that freedom sometimes comes at a cost, sometimes sacrifice. Right now, that sacrifice is taking steps to protect the lives of our fellow Americans.

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