The decision by the Island boards of health to suspend the indoor mask mandate effective immediately was the right call, even as some worry about lingering risks.

With the vast majority of Islanders now vaccinated against Covid-19, a steep decline in the number of new cases on the Island and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the move was amply justified by medical evidence.

Still, those who have turned a public health issue into a referendum on personal freedom will take credit for forcing the issue. And make no mistake, these men and women who surely never considered the politics of their positions have found themselves the focus of unwelcome pressure from all sides of the mask debate.

Through the two years of the pandemic, the volunteer boards of health supported by our very capable town health agents have cut a careful course, following the best science available at every step to protect the Island’s large at-risk community, while acknowledging the realities of our resort economy.

And the science has changed as scientists worldwide have learned more about a disease whose means of transmission was only guessed at when it burst on the scene early in 2020. Remember those early days when guidance focused on handwashing and many people left their mail and groceries out overnight as a bulwark against a mysterious infection.

Let’s face it: Washing your hands thoroughly and often is an excellent practice, as many germs are spread from manual contact. And while wearing a face covering may not block all disease, common sense says it reduces the spread of airborne droplets. We hope and expect that many people will continue to wear masks indoors, even as the requirement has been lifted.

The pandemic has changed habits and raised consciousness in some other beneficial ways as well. Employees are less likely to come to work with mild but potentially transmissible symptoms. Employers have become more tolerant of sick time and flexible work schedules. More people have taken up outdoor exercise. Restaurants have expanded takeout and outdoor dining options. Strangers are more apt to keep a respectful distance in shops and stores. Perhaps most importantly, many have become newly conscious of vulnerable populations — the elderly, the immune-compromised and children under five who are not eligible for vaccination.

The move away from mandated masks is not without risk to these people, and we understand their fear and concern. With their usual caution, the boards of health have left open the possibility of reinstatement if health indicators like infection rates and hospitalizations should spike again.

In the meantime, we look forward to once again seeing smiles on the faces of our friends and neighbors. And we thank the Island boards of health for monitoring the good of the community and following the science, step by step.