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To Mask…Or Not To Mask?

“To be…or not to be?”  Now, granted, it has been decades since I opened my copy of Shakespeare’s Works to consider the question which is familiar to generations of English literature students and centuries of Shakespeare fans as they, along with Prince Hamlet, consider whether life is worth living.

As we fast forward some 420 years from Hamlet’s time to 2020, in which the world continues to be knee deep in the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone who is paying attention is faced with a similar question which definitely impacts your lifestyle as well as, according to some sources, the odds that you might contract COVID or pass it along to others.

To mask…or not to mask?

Axios and other outlets are reporting that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has made an about face and signed an executive order which requires residents in Texas counties where there are at least 20 cases of Coronavirus to wear a face covering in public.  Up until yesterday, Gov. Abbott had resisted calls from public health officials and others to mandate that masks be worn.  Texas and other states have seen the number of confirmed COVID cases spike upward after having leveled off some weeks ago.

Masks – On Again and Off Again

There are some government officials who have been all in on the mask mandate for some time.  New York, New Jersey and Maryland have mandated the use of masks in public spaces since the middle of April. As of July 2, 23 states had adopted some form of a mask mandate. On the other hand, some states, like Georgia, for example, have resisted requiring people to wear masks.  However, earlier this week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp did a fly around tour of the state to encourage Georgians to wear masks.  While Gov. Kemp was himself wearing a mask, he stopped short of ordering that Georgians wear masks in public.

Unfortunately, much of the resistance of some government leaders to mandate masks and also the reluctance of the American public, which does not necessarily react well to being told they have to do this or that, to wear them has resulted from on again and off again guidance from the public health professionals regarding whether masks are effective against the spread of COVID-19.  To be charitable, the guidance regarding the wearing of masks since the world came to an end in mid-March has been inconsistent and confusing to everyone.

As the pandemic began to take hold in China and to spread around the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention repeatedly recommended against the use of face masks for the general public.  U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams was more to the point in a tweet on February 29.

But now, as we head into an Independence Day weekend unlike any other, both the CDC and Dr. Adams are singing a different song.

This continuous dithering on the issue of whether one should wear a mask or not has left many people scratching their heads.  If it is so important to wear a mask now to stop the spread of COVID-19, why wasn’t it a priority in March and April?

For the record, Vice President Mike Pence now appears to be a mask believer.  President Trump also says he wears a mask on occasion.  He is not in favor of mandating masks, but says that he is “all for masks” and “thinks masks are good.”

Public Health and Safety or Personal Liberty?

I ran a search on Twitter pairing “masks” and “liberty.”  The results were very interesting to say the least.  Many have latched onto the language of Jefferson (can we still reference Thomas Jefferson?) as he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all persons have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As I mentioned above, Americans do not take kindly to being told what to do, especially if there are fines or other sanctions backing up the mandates and the reason for the mandate is unclear.  On the other hand, just as many, if not more, of the commentators, including our good friend Erick Erickson are pooh-poohing the connection between wearing a face covering and a violation of personal liberty.

For myself, not that I am a public health expert, I am not a mask shamer one way or the other.  I have three types of face coverings.  Mostly I have adopted the Old West bank robber look with a bandana.  I also have a sewn mask with a built-in filter. Finally, I have had a supply of 3M N95 masks for years (sometimes I end up in houses that have a mold/mildew problem).  If I am out in public, I have all three in my vehicle and can use whichever mask seems to best suit the circumstance in which I find myself.

I have a good, formerly conservative, friend (he married a liberal girl), who told me that he is a strong believer in the consistent and mandated use of masks in public spaces. My wife, as a nine-year breast cancer survivor is immunocompromised, and appreciates me and others wearing a mask in public.  Others close to me hold a wide range of opinions varying from “hell no, I ain’t wearing a mask and you can’t make me” to the more pragmatic approach of wearing a face covering in appropriate circumstances when there is an inability to maintain “safe distancing” (I have come to despise the term “social distancing” because there is nothing social about it at all.).   

At the end of all the discussions/debates/arguments I have had with people on the issue of “to mask or not to mask” I have consistently come to the same conclusion.  I wear a face covering when I feel I need to do so.  I would prefer that you not tell me I have to do so.  I am also fine if you choose not to wear a covering as long as you are not knowingly exposing the rest of us to COVID or even the flu or a common norovirus.

Can’t hurt I guess.

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