It may become necessary to mandate facial coverings.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise rapidly, and some states are finding it necessary to roll back reopenings, this question hangs there like a rotting fish: How in the world did putting a face covering on in public close quarters become a partisan cultural issue, and why can’t we get past it?

The scientific and medical communities have been clear. Wearing a mask protects the people around you. And when those people wear masks, they protect you. Nothing is perfect or fool-proof, but the chances of spreading the virus go way down when people add masking up to social distancing.

Yet the simple act of donning a mask somehow became a cultural battleground. A violation of one’s personal freedom. An insult to America. To the oddball few, some kind of plot.

And now on the public health front the United States stands not as the shining city on a hill in other countries’ eyes, but as the top global hotspot for coronavirus spread.

We get it. Everybody has cabin fever and wants to get back to normal life. The economy has taken a body blow. Businesses need to operate and people need their jobs. Fall is approaching and children need to get back to being educated. Young people in particular want to do what comes natural, mixing and mingling and having a good time.

All that is dependent on bringing this virus under some semblance of control. Wishing, wanting and hoping is not a strategy. It’s a fantasy.

The saddest part of all this is people are resisting proper precautions for reasons that just make no sense. Call it cultural, call it political, call it plain old contrariness. Whatever term gets applied, the bottom line is a thumbing of one’s nose at science and medicine.

Someday, a vaccine breakthrough along with more muscular treatment options may tame this virus without requiring the kinds of compromises no one likes.

Until then, the right thing to do is look out for each other. Preferably, on a voluntary basis.

Alternatively, from conservative southern cities to liberal Dane County, we are beginning to see more assertive government policies to make people do the right thing. Likewise, business brands—Walmart, Best Buy, Starbucks—are acting on their own. It shouldn’t come to that, because a virus is not—repeat, not—a cultural or political phenomenon.

But if that’s the only way to get foolish people to do smarter things, so be it.