What’s the big deal about wearing masks in public? People wear clothing…
It’s easy to scapegoat a flimsy looking mask as an instrument of fear and turn it into a “the government can’t tell me what I can do” thing. Not wearing one is also a visible way to show allegiance to the side you’re on, and who you support politically. Unfortunately, the consequences could be deadly. Because not wearing a mask is not a way of proving you’re willing to sacrifice your own life. It’s a way of proving you’re willing to sacrifice somebody else’s.
And it’s a real problem that the nation’s top leader is not willing to set an example. Even in settings that would really seem to call for it.
Vice President Mike Pence didn’t wear a mask this week when he visited the Mayo Clinic this week. Even though the Mayo Clinic has a strict mask wearing policy. Pence’s excuse was confounding: that he wanted to be able to look healthcare workers “in the eye and say ‘thank you.’” Because masks don’t prevent you from looking anyone in the eye. So he’d only really have a point if he’d wanted to kiss or lick someone… Or…he was envisioning what would happen when he had to look his boss in the eye if he did wear a mask.
So Pence didn’t wear a mask because he didn’t want President Trump–“I won’t be doing it“–to yell at him. Trump doesn’t wear a mask because his spray tan would come off on it when he’d take it off to speak, and that’d be embarrassing.
Sadly, we think it’s simple as that.
Pence did wear a mask later in the week when he visited a GM plant making ventilators.
But Trump did not when he met at different times this week with small business owners, bankers and corporate executives at the White House.
Plus, Trump and Pence can get all the tests they want, and if they get sick would have access to all the cutting edge treatment available.
For most people that’s not so. It’s still hard to even get a test. If you get very sick, it’s still hard to get treatments that may be showing the most promise: like plasma therapy or the drug remdesivir, which is apparently helping some in some very severe cases, and at least gives a hint of some type of effective treatment not being unimaginably far off.
But it’s way harder to get either of those than a mask that might just help protect against the disease in the first place.
Almost exactly a year ago now, we moved to a small town in Massachusetts. In the past few days, a couple of busier towns nearby passed local regulations requiring people to wear masks when they’re out on busy/main streets, and when they go into businesses that are open.
And that’s caused a major uproar on local message boards. Based upon fear that such “draconian” measures might creep into our/their towns next. Which is being countered very strongly by pro-mask voices. But the “anti-maskers”, though they appear to be fewer in number, are way more vocal and way more passionate. And why is this a pro/anti issue at all?
We’ve made it clear where we stand from the beginning, when we argued that wearing a mask as a weapon against spread of Coronavirus had to be at least somewhat effective, for the simple fact that it’s a mask. But we never thought mask-wearing would become so divisive.
We’ve been limiting our trips outside for various reasons to an average of about once a week. When we most recently ran errands, we made three stops: a market, a garden center, and a bicycle/running trail. We were surprised to see no one (except for us) wearing a mask at any of these places. Not one.
If you look at area message boards, or responses on local news websites, most of the people furious about the prospect of being required to wear masks fall into a couple of categories:
- Masks are too hard to get. That’s true. Even if you can get them: they used to be cheap, now they’re more expensive. We ourselves are not crafty people, so we can’t count ourselves among those who are able to easily make them either. We feel fortunate we had one left from when we refinished a wooden staircase a few years ago. When that wears out we’ll probably start using a bandana or something like that.
- While the situation in our town isn’t as dire right now as in New York, at the beginning very few people in New York had masks either. Now when you see photos of people outside in New York City, virtually everyone’s wearing a mask (well illustrated in this great photo essay on the New Yorker website). So where did all those masks come from? If people feel they need something, they find a way. So yes, a mask may be a little difficult to get or make. But is it harder to get than convalescent plasma?
- Masks are “taking away our fresh air” or more dramatically, oppressive local governments are telling us we “don’t have the right to fresh air”. As someone else from the message section put it: “Some [people] just have to buck authority.” To which someone else replied (sarcastically!): “Let’s all just be good sheep”. Or this comment, which in some ways is even more puzzling to us: “Making you wear a mask is just a little too far”. Really? It’s really that symbolic of all the worst things about the government trying to tell you what to do? It’s really that hard? And BTW, it’s the same air. If it’s fresh, it’s fresh.
- Mask wearing ordinances by local government are not enforceable in any practical way. And masks are meant to be just a “recommendation”, not a requirement. Even the White House and CDC says so. And that’s also true. In fact, the strongest the White House has gotten on masks is:
“Strongly consider using face coverings while in public“.
Our answer to that: so what? It’s pretty difficult to enforce laws requiring people to wear clothing when they leave their homes, yet pretty much everyone does anyway. Also, even people who are very confrontational online, tend to like to avoid in-person confrontation. So maybe some will end up wearing a mask not because they believe in the principle, or even because some town council says so, but because they don’t want to get yelled at when they go outside. Not because they’re afraid of getting busted and fined. And that’s fine.
Way back, after 9/11, President George W. Bush made a speech in which he called on all Americans to make sacrifices in the aftermath. And everybody was behind that and ready to make the sacrifices the President would ask of us. But except for people in the military and their families, nobody really ended up having to make significant sacrifices at all.
Now’s time for that sacrifice if you must see it that way: wear a mask even if you don’t like it, because it’s good for others. Have we really become that spoiled and vain? It’s still about as small a sacrifice as we can think of.
Make it fashion.
We’re not kidding about that: in Japan, Tokyo’s Governor Yuriko Koike is setting trends by wearing high-style homemade-looking masks. That’s attracted a lot of positive attention from the public, with lots of people now trying to copy and make her mask designs on their own. And the Governor of Okinawa is also gaining popularity for his colorful homemade masks, as you can see in the photo below: