So let’s talk about wearing masks in public

David J. Coehrs

I went to a laundromat when my dryer went on the fritz. I was the only one wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus. An older man and woman who were speaking only about a foot apart noticed me and actually smirked. They whispered a bit between them, then the woman said loudly, obviously for my benefit, “It’s no worse than the flu!”

So let’s talk about wearing masks in public. I do so routinely every time I go to the grocery store and the gas station or on job-related photo assignments. It’s become second nature, and it makes me feel secure. I’m within an older category of people who are more susceptible to the virus, and I’ve had some past health issues.

That’s one reason I wear a mask. But the other more reasonable and considerate reason I wear a mask is that the country’s health experts have repeatedly emphasized how important they are for our protection against contracting and spreading the virus. How, despite the whining and pouting and sometimes downright aggressive behavior some Americans show over any suggestion of helping others remain healthy by wearing a mask, face coverings have proven to be very effective.

And honestly, I’d rather listen to the advice of experts who have earned prominent health degrees and spent years gathering knowledge and experience in their prestigious fields than to the ramblings of armchair health “professionals” who insist they know what they’re talking about despite their more limited educations and their “proven” information from the Internet.

And I don’t want to argue with the legions of people whose tunnel vision leaves them adamantly against wearing masks because it violates their Constitutional rights, their civil liberties, and their personal freedom. Just as I don’t care to argue with those who won’t wear a mask because it will lead to socialism, or because it’s the next step in a government plot to gain complete “1984” control over all of us, or because wearing one makes us all sheep blindly following politicians, scientists, and media members, all of whom are wildly blowing the whole thing out of proportion.

What those protestors should do is take off their blinders and look at the facts. Coronavirus is a new virus (hence, “novel” coronavirus) that no one on earth has ever experienced before, and it stymies scientists and researchers with its continued mutations and unpredictability and the intensity of its virulence. And as the experts have been trying to tell us all for months, – despite what Bill down the street or your Uncle Josh insists – it isn’t just like the flu or any other seasonal virus we’ve been living with for years and can overcome with medications. It’s much more contagious and resilient, and unlike the common flu it can cause serious illness, permanent health damage, and death at all ages, even in younger, healthier people who consider themselves invincible. And right now there’s nothing to eradicate it.

But we’ve grown tired of being told to stay home for our own safety, and now sunny skies and warm weather prevail. We’ve grumbled and thrown tantrums for months because, for a relatively short period of our lives, we can’t go outside and play. And now that state governments have been pressured to set us free with restrictions, we’re defiantly choosing to ignore their orders. We want everything to be like it was, when we could dine out and see movies and hit the bars and have fun, and didn’t have to follow restrictions implemented for our own protection. We don’t seem to care how irresponsible and irrational we have to be to feel the old normal again.

So rather than act like adults and accept that a pandemic no one saw coming is among us, and accept the rules we’ve been given to avoid it, many of us choose instead to embrace denial, ignorance, apathy, unwillingness, conspiracy theories, and plain childish stubbornness in an effort to wish it away rather than face the incontrovertible science in front of our eyes.

And so a large segment of us refuses to wear protective face coverings, one of the very things the health experts say could eventually help ease the restrictions we are so angry about. But we insist the masks are not fair. We say they’re uncomfortable and inconvenient, they don’t work, and no one is going to tell us what to do because we have rights and this isn’t Russia.

Of course, another more rational and compassionate way to view masks is that they’re worn to protect both us and those we come in contact with against a very real, incredibly infectious, and indiscriminately deadly virus that has killed more 508,000 people worldwide, over 128,000 in the United States alone, and shows no signs of stopping. And that, despite how it may feel, this won’t last forever, and we should buck up and wear a mask in public to help, because the coronavirus pandemic has become a larger, more important consideration in life that calls for people to step up, act like grown-ups, and think us, us, us instead of me, me, me.

David J. Coehrs