We Americans always seem to find some reason to fight among ourselves. As you might expect, this being a presidential election year, we have more than a few reasons to take issue with our neighbors …
We Americans always seem to find some reason to fight among ourselves. As you might expect, this being a presidential election year, we have more than a few reasons to take issue with our neighbors and even sometimes our friends. Sometimes, it seems, such conflicts develop over really trivial issues. Which, if you have read the headline on this essay, brings me to the subject of wearing masks to defend ourselves and our friends and neighbors against the COVID-19 pandemic.
It seems that some of us have strong feelings against donning such a mask. Others have equally strong feelings that everyone wear a mask when among people, especially when those people are in a situation that makes it impossible to maintain a safe distance — 6 feet, or if you think in metrics, a couple of meters.
I happen to be in the camp of the pro-maskers, at least in part because of my current position. I already have three conditions that are trying to kill me, and I certainly don’t want to add a fourth. Wearing a mask is one way of foiling that nasty virus from joining the attack on my well-being.
Now, I will agree that wearing such a mask is not comfortable, especially when the wearer is subject to hot weather, is exerting himself or suffers from asthma or some other condition that compromises breathing. Personally, I’ll take a chance with those side-effects. I’m not ready to have my will executed just yet and medical advice says wearing such a mask will stall that event for a while — at least until one of the other three conditions competing for my life wins the battle.
I suppose those who claim that making them wear masks is a violation of their constitutional rights and takes away their liberty also have a point, but frankly, it’s a mighty small point, given the situation. I’m all for liberty, but I realize that freedom is not just an individual thing; it’s also a group thing. If there is a serial killer at large in Powell, whether it’s a human being, a bacterium or a virus, we would all be in danger from his activities, and that means none of us is really free from the danger.
As for my constitutional rights, I like them, especially the famous Four Freedoms of the First Amendment. However, I can’t find anything in the Constitution that gives me the right to endanger others by passing along a deadly virus, nor can I find any such right expressed in Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to the Federalist Papers. More important is my right to be secure in my home or person. While the amendments speak only of bearing arms and requiring search warrants, it seems illogical to me that it shouldn’t also apply to warding off deadly diseases. After all, I can’t shoot a virus, but I can wear a mask to stop it from invading my person, even if it is a violation — an extremely tiny violation — of my rights.
Consider the following from the World War II days: Early in the war, German submarines had a happy hunting ground along the East Coast of the U.S., knocking off cargo ships carrying American goods that may or may not have been headed to England with supplies to help the British resist Nazi attacks. The reason was that people along that coast refused to join blackouts by turning off city lights. The governor of, as you might guess, Florida said turning the lights off would stop tourists from coming to Florida. Well, all the sub captains had to do was wait until a ship was silhouetted against the lights of, say, Baltimore or Charleston and send a torpedo on its way. As a result, the Nazis sank something like 700 ships in two months, resulting in deaths of hundreds of sailors and the loss of millions of dollars worth of ships and supplies, before the government got serious about demanding blackouts.
Now obviously, there is a difference between submarine warfare and warfare against a virus, but the principle is the same. When lives are at stake, we can and should take reasonable and necessary steps to free ourselves from the threat, even if it causes a little discomfort.
There are a bunch of crazy conspiracy theories about masks out there, way too many to mention here, but one thing anti-mask people say in defense of their refusal to wear a mask needs to be addressed. As one Wyomingite wrote to a newspaper in the state, nobody should wear a mask; consequently, more people will be infected. This, they say, will result in so-called “herd immunity,” such as we had developed with measles before anti-vaccination people started raising doubts.
Well, the herd immunity regarding measles and other diseases such as smallpox came about because medical science developed vaccines. Back when I was in about the third grade, polio was epidemic, and my mother, for one, spent most of the late summer and fall — the “polio season” — in a state of worry about her kids getting polio; especially when someone at school was reported to be on his way to Billings with polio. Fortunately, that was the last polio epidemic, at least in developed nations, because of a vaccine. I was then free from my mother’s obsession about saving me from polio.
If medical science doesn’t develop a vaccine, it could take a long time to reach herd immunity. Take the Black Death of medieval times, which is usually assumed to be some form of bubonic plague. It first swept Europe from 1346-53. But it came back 17 times until the last epidemic that lasted from 1664-1673. Now we don’t have epidemics of Black Plague. But the bacteria that cause the plague are still around, and every so often someone comes down with the plague, usually after contact with an infected wild animal. Thankfully, though, it rarely spreads from that individual.
Now with our advanced medical science, the COVID-19 epidemic probably won’t reappear 17 times before 2320, but if a vaccine isn’t developed and, more importantly, everybody gets vaccinated, it could last longer than any of us would wish.
I don’t expect anyone to start wearing a mask because of this essay, but if you are one who won’t, please stay away from my wife, me, and even our cat. Like I said, I’m not quite ready to have my will executed just yet.