The Baker administration made several smart moves this week in an effort to stem the surging tide of COVID-19 cases.

He called in the National Guard to help overburdened hospitals, and directed those hospitals to delay most non-essential surgeries. The administration is sending more than 2 million rapid at-home tests to 102 of the state’s hardest-hit communities and is continuing to push those who aren’t vaccinated to get the shot.

Yet Baker continues to shy away from one of the least expensive and most effective tools to fight the spread of the virus that has killed almost 20,000 Bay State residents: a simple mandate that requires masks be worn indoors in public settings and private businesses.

Earlier this week, the governor instead offered a wishy-washy “advisory” touting the benefits of masking. It wasn’t enough.

Fortunately, local leaders are taking up the mantle of leadership. First, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced not only a mask mandate, but a vaccine requirement for entry to almost all public and private spaces in the state’s largest city.

On Wednesday, two of Essex County’s largest communities – the cities of Peabody and Salem – followed suit.

When Peabody enacted its mask mandate, the decision was not made lightly.

“The dark days are continuing here,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt. “I was hoping we were beyond some of this, and we aren’t right now. It’s very concerning to hear, particularly, the call we had yesterday with Lahey, and their concern about beds and emergencies in general.”

Later that evening, the Salem Board of Health reinstated the city’s mask mandate and added a vaccine requirement for entry into most businesses, including movie theaters, gyms, bars and restaurants and haunted houses.

“We need mitigation efforts that we know work,” board Chairman Jeremy Schiller said. “To do otherwise or not do anything is irresponsible.

The Catholic Church also understands the need to keep its parishioners safe and instituted a mandate of its own. Church officials, including deacons, readers, servers and choir members, will have to wear masks when not speaking for all services through Jan. 17.

The lack of a statewide mandate, however, leaves a confusing hodgepodge of local rules. Methuen requires masks inside city buildings but nowhere else. Middleton has no mandate at all. Cambridge has a mask mandate. Gloucester has one, but only for public buildings.

It’s clear a statewide solution is needed. For now, that burden falls on local leaders.

“I’d hope that Beverly and Danvers would follow suit,” Peabody Board of Health member Anthony Carli said after his panel’s vote. “The regionalization of these mandates are always better than just one city.”

By now, two things should be clear: The number of COVID-19 cases is again on the rise thanks to the omicron variant, and masks can help slow the spread.

The state Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported 7,817 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, a one-day record for the entire pandemic. Meanwhile, researchers have found wearing a mask can reduce your chances of contracting or spreading the virus by 53%.

“Masking is a public health measure proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Carol Allen, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said. “Wearing masks while indoors is an effective and appropriate way to slow transmission of the disease, especially with the holiday and cold and flu seasons upon us. We must all work together to take steps to confront and stem what could be a continued rise in cases, hospitalizations, serious illness, and death.”

It’s pretty straightforward. Masks work, and a statewide mask mandate will help us get through this latest surge more quickly. Coupled with vaccinations, this will help prevent another holiday season in isolation and uncertainty.

Local officials are doing their part. It’s time for Gov. Baker to follow their lead.

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