Minnesota has been fortunate under state leadership to have slowed the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the state in recent months, but now is not the time to relax.

State health officials Friday reported 609 new cases — the highest number since Memorial Day weekend — bringing the state's total to more than 40,000 cases. The state also reported five more deaths, bringing the death total to nearly 1,500 since the pandemic began.

Here are the latest stats on coronavirus from the Minnesota Department of Health:

  • 40,767 cases
  • 1,495 deaths
  • 4,329 cases requiring hospitalization
  • 227 patients still hospitalized; 124 in intensive care
  • 35,193 patients no longer in isolation

Kandiyohi and Stearns counties are still dealing with a significant caseload following outbreaks at various poultry processing plants.

The time is here for all Minnesotans to join the fight against coronavirus and simply wear a mask.

Minnesota cities of Edina, Mankato, Rochester, Minneapolis and St. Paul have already mandated mask-wearing in public places. Gov. Tim Walz has said he is considering a statewide mask order.

Public officials across the country are urging people to wear a mask to help control the spread of coronavirus. The Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan said the most important thing for the economy now is wearing protective face coverings.

We all have a stake and a role in controlling the spread of coronavirus.

You want local bars and restaurants to open to full capacity, wear a mask now.

You want Minnesota schools to open in the fall, wear a mask now.

You want high school sports in the region this fall, wear a mask now.

You want grandpa and grandma to have good health, wear a mask now.

You want a Minnesota Vikings football game this fall, wear a mask now.

You want your employer's business to remain open, wear a mask now.

Most importantly, learn how to wear a mask properly.

There were some Willmar business workers this week were wearing masks. That is a good step. However, may individuals did not cover their nose or chin with their face masks, which meant they might as well have been not wearing a mask at all.

Wearing a mask is not a political statement for or against anyone or any political party. Frankly, it is an action to protect your family and fellow residents and help fight the spread of coronavirus in Minnesota and across the country.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said, "We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people."

Former vice president Richard B. Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, was more direct, stating wearing masks is manly.

The evidence shows the importance of masks. A recent study published in Health Affairs found that a mask mandate led to a slowdown in the daily COVID-19 growth rate. The study looked at periods before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia. And another study reviewed 198 counties and found that those countries with a cultural norm or governmental policy favoring mask-wearing experienced lower death rates from COVID-19.

Wearing a mask is a simple solution to do our individual part in addressing a matter of life and death during this coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing a mask is a small sacrifice for the privilege of living in and protecting America. It is that simple.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune's Editorial Board, consisting of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.