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It was perhaps inevitable that there would be setbacks in the battle to get COVID-19 under control, and one of those setbacks came this week when it was declared that there was substantial spread of the coronavirus in Washington County. As of Tuesday, there were 115 new COVID-19 cases in the county over a seven-day period, a 155% increase over the seven days preceding. This has led to calls for residents to don masks when they are in indoor settings regardless of their vaccination status, because vaccinated people can be unwitting carriers of the highly contagious delta variant and can spread it to children under the age of 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated, or older individuals who have not been vaccinated. The best defense against COVID-19 is, of course, to get vaccinated, as it offers strong protection against illness and death, and the more people who are vaccinated, the closer we will get to stamping out the virus for good.

The astronauts who went to the moon after July 1969’s Apollo 11 mission have never received as much attention as that accorded to Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, the first two astronauts to set foot on the lunar surface. So, it might come as a surprise that a native of the Pittsburgh region made it to the moon 50 years ago this month. James Irwin was part of the Apollo 15 mission in late July and early August 1971, and became the eighth person to plant their boots on the moon’s dusty landscape. He took an Allegheny County flag with him that remains on permanent display. Irwin succumbed to a heart attack at age 61 in 1991, and there are now just four Apollo astronauts still alive out of the 12 who made it to the moon. Residents of the region should feel pride that a boy who once lived in Beechview and Brookline made it all the way to the moon.

Need any proof of how safe it is in 2021 to travel by air? At the same time James Irwin was on the moon, the world was having an incredibly awful day when it comes to aviation. On July 30, 1971, 155 passengers were killed when a Japanese airliner collided with a Japanese air force jet, and 37 paratroopers were killed when a transport plane being flown by the French air force crashed. And while there were no fatalities, a Pan Am jet hit a lighting structure as it was taking off in San Francisco, leaving several passengers severely injured. That all happened in just one day. Looking back 50 years can serve as a reminder of how much safer air travel has become. The last commercial airline crash in the United States happened in 2009, and they have become increasingly rare in other parts of the world, too. The features that now make air travel so safe were, unfortunately, acquired through trial and error. But the old saying is more true than ever – the most dangerous part of a trip on a plane is the drive to the airport.

Conservatives have long held to the principle that local control is best – except, it seems, when it comes to mask mandates that mayors or school superintendents might impose in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Republican governors in some states have prohibited them, but at least one is now having second thoughts. Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on Tuesday that he regretted signing a bill in March forbidding local mask mandates, and would like his state’s legislature to repeal it. “In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” Hutchinson said. We can understand why – right now, Arkansas’ hospitals are filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients. Other lawmakers contemplating overruling local officials on mask mandates should take note of Hutchinson’s remorse.

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