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46° Good Evening

Not the time to let loose 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo holds a COVID-19 briefing

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo holds a COVID-19 briefing in Manhattan on July 1. Cuomo recently announced that Long Island is clear to enter Phase 4 of New York State's reopening plan. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Kevin P. Coughlin

It’s been a happy start to summer on Long Island, not just because of the good weather but because the region has seen such improvement with the pandemic.

It could all change quickly.

That possibility must be kept top of mind as the region enters Phase 4 of reopening. Widespread mask use, social distancing, personal and business restrictions, and the dedication and sacrifice of medical professionals and essential workers got us to where we are today. We can’t let up now. 

We can’t, for example, abandon the masks and clump up in the kinds of gatherings seen this weekend on Fire Island beaches and in Montauk bars, and so many other local places these last few days. Some Long Island Rail Road riders and conductors also have been spotted ignoring the requirements to cover up.

The videos and pictures and anecdotes are unsurprising. People want to let loose. New York beaches and backyards are full of individuals, many with the best of intentions, wearing masks, staying outdoors, and using hand sanitizer. But then you pull the mask down to sip a beer. A small, relatively safe group becomes larger. Things get crowded and maybe your mask lies forgotten.

We can all do better. If you wear a mask all the time when you’re outside, keep it up. If you wear it while shopping, try leaving it on for the walk back to your car. If you had it in place while the burgers were cooking but then took it off to eat, remember to re-mask. Being outdoors isn’t a magic pill against disease transmission — keep using the masks and maintaining 6 feet from non-household members.

More mask-wearing helps, scientists are finding, and every little bit counts.

Without public cooperation, it’s not surprising that enforcement could become necessary during a public health crisis, as happened over the weekend at Montauk hot spots such as Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe, Ruschmeyer’s, and Nick’s on the Beach.

That was the right call for East Hampton Town police. There were scenes of shoulder-to-shoulder, often maskless crowds, says East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. He’s right in calling for the state to consider liquor license suspensions. Most of those party-goers return home to our local communities. County, town, city and village public safety and law enforcement officers must also make enforcement of state rules a priority when large gatherings flout them.

We all have a role here to don masks or homemade face coverings and keep our distance. It’s easy to forget unless we remember where we have been.

If we don’t, the future holds cloudy skies. Those thunderstorms rolling in are the vision of other states, who were not sufficiently prepared as the pandemic approached. From Delaware to Florida to Texas, the crisis has worsened, and the federal government has shown itself to be of limited help, at best.

But we don’t even have to look across borders to see what happens if we drop the masks and the caution. We just have to remember the New York death count and shutdown this spring.

— The editorial board