Just wear the dang mask

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Letís talk about masks.

As the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, with accelerating case counts around the U.S. and the death toll rising above 128,000 in this country, it seems unthinkable that the request of citizens to wear masks when out in public elicits such strong negative responses among a disturbingly-large segment of the population.

The response is so strong, and so prevalent among certain groups, that the simple act of writing a column about the importance of wearing a mask will, no doubt, trigger a minor flood of outraged letters to the editor and phone calls to yours truly.

And I just donít get it.

It's hard to remember the early days of the virus, when it hadn't made it to our little corner of the world, but we were joining together to do our part, social distance, stay home when possible and practice the kind of good hygiene our mothers taught us.

Many of my friends and I dug out our sewing machines to stitch up masks for vulnerable loved ones, friends and those on the front lines in the health care field. There was a "wartime" camaraderie as we all seemed to band together to get through the crisis. Regular folks were told masks were unnecessary, as the country's small stockpile was needed for those in the health care field and the most medically vulnerable among us.

Well, March moved to April, which slogged into May. With June departed and July here, that sense of shared purpose has been shattered, with politics and ideology being injected into a global pandemic. While the situation on the ground is, according to the scientists, doctors and numbers, much worse here than it was in March, shared purpose has given way to political and ideological arguments over, of all things, the wearing of masks in public spaces.

While we are psychologically done with the coronavirus, the virus isn't done with us. In fact, like the temperature outside, it is heating up. Researchers have learned more about the disease, and how it spreads over the past four months. And doctors, scientists, and community leaders are telling us to WEAR. A. MASK.

That's not a message folks want to hear. We want the pandemic to be over. None of us enjoy it. However, a segment of us dutifully wear our masks, and another segment of the population refuses to.

I fall on the "wear the mask" side. I believe the doctors. I believe the scientists, and I believe it's my responsibility to do my part to not just protect myself, but those around me.

I'm not perfect. I've been known to forget to put on the mask. I've run into a store without it. Within my family "bubble" where we all know our movements, I am mask free. But, I really make an effort to do my part, wear my mask, stay away from crowded places and unmasked people. At the Daily Reporter in Spencer, staffers know the threshold of my office is lava ó you donít cross. Emails and conversations from the doorway 10 feet away are how we get things done. When I can, I work from home, and so do my staffers. My age is closer to the "COVID danger zone" than I would like, and my immune system was ravaged by a multiyear fight with uncontrolled Graves' disease. I try to err on the side of caution.

I don't feel my rights have somehow been taken from me by the wearing of a mask. I don't feel manipulated. I like to think I am well-read, educated and intelligent. (My teachers and my mom always told me I was.) My independent streak is legendary in my clan. So donít call me a "Sheeple."

In my mask, I feel kind of powerful. Because the small act of masking up is one thing I can do to help fight this awful pandemic which has turned our world upside down. I can't come up with a vaccine. I can't perfect a test for it. I can't treat a patient suffering from it.

But I can put on a mask.

I am tired of hearing that we all need to pull together to get through this, only to see so many folks (including some who parrot those "pull together" words) who refuse to simply cover their face when they are out in public spaces with others. "Community" by its very name, implies a mutual care, a mutual need, a mutual responsibility.

We wear masks mainly to protect those around us, according to the Centers for Disease Control. When everyone wears a mask, that benefit is multiplied. Those who won't wear a mask are a break in that protective chain and tear down our community with their selfishness.

It's not an illustration of freedom to not wear a mask, in fact it's continuing the oppression ó of yourself and others. The longer this pandemic rages, the longer before life returns to normal.

The internet, with its myriad dark alleyways and closed groups, is full of conspiracy theories and constitutional arguments for those who have time and motivation to make not wearing a mask a hill they want to defend. But my question is ó what do you have to lose by trying to be conscientious about wearing a mask for a couple of weeks? Really? You've done sillier things and there are probably photos of you somewhere wearing acid-washed jeans and sporting Bon Jovi hair that took a half a can of Aqua Net to hold in place to prove it.

I'll do just about anything for the people I love, and the test of community is whether I will do something small for people I donít even know. I think I can manage that.

I read an amazing quote on Sunday from Diocese Archbishop Jackels, from Dubuque. It really distills what wearing a mask is all about.

"I consider wearing a mask a religious practice ... because it is motivated by a respect for the dignity of our own life and health and for others ... inspired by charity of others ... and an expression of the common good."