The fact that this is even a controversial topic in some places and in some heads is really bizarre. And yet, here we are.
So, let’s briefly discuss the issue of face masks.
First, let’s mention what this issue is NOT. An ordinary, non-medical, non-N95 face mask really is NOT going to offer you tons of protection against COVID-19. It’s admittedly NOT the most comfortable thing to have on, and as we move into the summer months, it’s NOT going to feel particularly cooling when you wear it.
But a cloth face mask — the kind that we see many people wearing these days when they either shop at or work in a store — may help protect others by filtering many of the droplets you may expel in your breath. If you are asymptomatic with COVID-19, that mask could be a small but important contribution to containing the spread of the virus.
Clearly, some people aren’t wearing masks in public places because they think it’s unnecessary, they don’t possess a mask, they forgot to bring it with them or they don’t realize that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends people wear such masks in order to curb the spread of the virus.
And yet, this has somehow become a divisive political issue in some instances. We’ve seen reports of people defying stay-at-home orders in some states, and part of their act of defiance is to pointedly NOT wear a face mask while also ignoring social distancing measures and other proposals meant to safeguard health.
Some of these expressions of defiance, especially regarding face masks, have turned heated at times, which is ironic. For these people, the act of not wearing a face mask is a declaration of freedom, but in effect, what they are fighting for is the freedom to potentially infect others with the coronavirus. Thus, the people who should really be angry and upset are those who must deal with people who refuse to wear masks.
(And we’ve seen this happen, too. There has been at least one well-circulated social media video showing unmasked people in a store being verbally assaulted and literally chased out of the establishment by masked shoppers.)
The issue is such that North Dakota Gov. Doug Borgum addressed the matter last week, bringing up the issue of “mask shaming” those people who choose to wear a mask during the pandemic. At times getting emotional, the Republican governor told his fellow North Dakotans, “If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in, or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have COVID, and are fighting.
“You should look at them and say, ‘that person’s wearing a mask because, for them, there’s additional risk in their life,’” he said.
He added, “This is … a senseless dividing line and I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding.”
Nevertheless, this seems to be who we are now. It’s peculiar and frustrating — an aggressive divisiveness that may be one indicator of why this country has, to date, appeared uniquely unprepared to deal with COVID-19 in a unified, more effective matter.
To be honest, we haven’t heard of too much “mask shaming” in the Yankton vicinity so far, but if this is stirring in North Dakota, it can’t be too far away.
Some people are going to wear masks and some people, for various reasons, aren’t. No law can mandate this. But frankly, you’d be smarter, wiser and more considerate if you did — and we’d be better off if cooler heads can prevail. All politics aside, that’s the bottom line.