Last week Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels was approached by a “concerned parent” who insisted his agency investigate massive child abuse in Sierra Vista.

After a face-to-face meeting with the complainant, who brought a petition signed by 72 area residents, the sheriff dismissed the child abuse allegation after learning that the focus was on the temporary mask mandate imposed by the Sierra Vista Unified School District. The complainant wanted the sheriff to arrest the superintendent and members of the school board for alleged abuse.

The mask mandate will expire Sept. 28, the day before a state law goes into effect to prohibit school districts from imposing the requirement. By that date, if the trend reported Friday by the Cochise County heath department continues, we expect COVID-19 cases will continue to drop in schools and local communities.

The recent hysteria surrounding mask mandates, vaccinations and social protocols will not decline.

We believe people are free to believe what they want to believe. Ours is not to judge the right or wrong of personal opinions.

Where that freedom ends is today’s challenge.

School boards, governments and businesses are places responsible for addressing the health and welfare of groups of people. This includes people from a variety of ethnicities, differing backgrounds and diverse belief systems. To accomplish the goal of creating a healthy workplace for everyone, most governing bodies and businesses quickly embraced what doctors, scientists and other experts were saying when the pandemic erupted in February 2020.

Grocery stores mandated masks, businesses instituted remote workplace rules to keep employees at home rather than at the office, retail stores put stickers on the floor to show people where to stand to maintain social distancing.

For the most part, Cochise County residents went along. Some grumbled, some resisted and sometimes police were called to handle an unruly customer. Overall, people embraced the science, followed the rules, wore masks and got vaccinated.

Health officials told supervisors last week 53 percent of county residents had received shots, and more than 75 percent of those age 65 and older were inoculated.

Still the virus persisted. After near-elimination of coronavirus cases in the county last spring, health officials began reporting a variation of COVID-19 was infecting an increasing number of residents. Three cases were reported in February and by August, 80 had been infected, with 14 dying from the disease in a two-month period. Cochise County went from a “moderate” to a “high” transmission rate in just a few weeks.

As they had in the past, governing bodies and businesses responded. Some returned to the policies that proved effective in reducing the spread of the virus last year. Major retailers strongly encouraged customers to “mask up,” and schools — eager to get kids back into classrooms — mandated mask wearing.

That’s when it became a political and “religious” issue. Instead of allowing elected governing authorities to follow the science, we are now debating whether masks are consistent with “God’s will,” and questioning whether a massive conspiracy is afoot.

Meanwhile, most who have been vaccinated and those who have demonstrated the courtesy of masking up when they enter a crowded venue are staying healthy.

Let’s not interpret God’s will and impose that belief system on others who may not share that perspective. Let’s stick with the science and eliminate this virus once and for all.