When history looks back on the year of coronavirus, one aspect of the pandemic that may stand out among the strangest is the way that face masks were somehow transformed into some kind of political campaign button.
The prevalent train of thought in at least some circles seems to have become: If you wear one, you’re a Democrat, liberal, snowflake, pick your poison. If you don’t wear one, you’re Republican, conservative, troglodyte, whatever.
How this simple accessory became so fraught with political import will have social scientists penning books for years to come. Somewhere along the way our interpretation of face masks went off the rails. And that’s not good. It would be helpful if we could erase the evolution of our biases in this regard and start all over.
Face masks are preventative measures highly recommended by epidemiologists – the scientists who study communicable diseases – not so much for yourself but for others. While the mask affords you some protection, it primarily prevents you from infecting someone else. And that’s important for this highly contagious disease because we can carry it around and infect others for about 14 days before we show symptoms – if we ever do. Some infected people never do.
And masks will become increasingly important locally as the tourists start coming through our community on their way to Yellowstone and beyond. Some will certainly be carrying the virus and infecting a few of us in our midst today.
To be clear: When out of the house alone or with housemates, walking, jogging or hiking with no other people nearby, the mask is probably not necessary. But in enclosed public spaces or anywhere where social distancing is difficult to impossible, it’s a different story.
Hypothetical but very possible scenario: If some nameless person’s choice to wear a mask prevents an infection or string of infections that ultimately spares your parent, grandparent or other loved one with an underlying medical condition from becoming infected and suffering a great deal or even dying, would you appreciate that person’s choice? Of course you would. Wouldn’t you be inclined to return the favor?
Let’s stop shaming each other over our choice in facial apparel and just practice some common sense until we get past this crisis. It won’t last forever.