The Freedom To Wear A Mask

The novel coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic has revealed a myriad of truths about the United States and of those who inhabit it. Some of the more concerning truths surfacing to the forefront of this historic moment involve current levels of entitlement, selfishness, and confusion embedded within our society. Largely fueled by misinformation, fear, and the agendas of political leaders, a window into our social failings has opened, giving us a clearer look at our most embarrassing and dangerous qualities. It is through this window that we can begin to identify and address what has proved to be a significant roadblock that is curtailing our social progression towards a more solidified and united country.

Thanks to the missteps, inactions, and blatant incompetence demonstrated by many of our elected leaders, perceived personal freedoms have become conflated with social responsibility pertaining to our current health emergency. The Guardian recently addressed the real possibility that the percentage of our country who believe in and perpetuate anti-science, anti-authority, and anti-vaccine ideologies could endanger our prospects of achieving the level of herd immunity needed to collectively protect us from this virus. We see this play out among those who reject wearing face coverings, do not practice social distancing, and promote misinformation to others. Thinking one’s personal preference outweighs the potential health risks of others is both selfish and entitled, as those who choose to not adhere to public health mandates not only endanger themselves but those whom they come into contact with publicly and at home.

With the most confirmed covid-19 cases and over a quarter of all associated covid-19 deaths world-wide, the United States is undeniably a hotspot for virus activity and spread. These numbers, which are estimated to be underreported, are cause for concern and social action. Yet, there is a growing lack of urgency among portions of the U.S. population to act in their best interest as elected leaders continue to provide the public with mixed messages, misinformation, and outright lies, motivated by financial incentives or political loyalties. President Trump has continued to provide mixed messages regarding the importance of wearing masks but has largely favored utilizing masks as political props and equating such with personal freedoms. Trump himself has avoided wearing a mask on television or in public, continuing to model behavior which is incongruent with the established science related to the virus. Anti-vaxxers, anti-authority groups, and various other conspiracy theorists have been emboldened and encouraged by Trump (and those in his administration) to purport their ideologies and agendas that oppose recommendations by health officials pertaining to covid-19, which have been increasingly accepted and adopted by those unable to differentiate reality from “alternative facts.”

According to a recent poll released by CNN, around one-third of those surveyed reported that they would not receive a coronavirus vaccine if one was available. This is particularly disturbing as vaccines could be considered the least invasive intervention a person could receive to help manage the social impact incurred from this virus. Face coverings and masks have morphed into statements reflecting tribal politics and ideological loyalties. Many oppose face masks and equate the discarding of masks to that of the discarding of tea during the Boston tea party, however, this is not tea, this is life and death. Health officials who have mandated public use of masks (which have been shown to be effective in reducing the spread of covid-19) have received extensive backlash from some groups within their communities, with one health official from Orange County having resigned after receiving death threats. There is an increasing number of videos circulating on social media depicting the recorded behaviors from such entitled individuals refusing to wear masks in public places (stores, restaurants, public transportation, etc.).

Having recently traveled cross-country through many southern states (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina) , I can say that I was mostly alone in wearing a mask (and gloves) when stopping to eat, use the bathroom, get gas, or check into a hotel. What confused me the most was the dirty looks my family and I received simply for wearing masks. It seemed to me that the reactions I received were not even connected to the fact that I was wearing a facial covering to protect myself (and others) from a highly contagious pathogen, but rather I was displaying a symbol that has been associated with a political stance, perverted into an anti-Trump or anti-republican marking.

This is an important issue to address. We live in a nation where a global pandemic and public health emergency has become vulnerable to being hijacked for political purposes. A contagious pathogen does not choose their host based on political designation, sexuality, racial identity, religion, lack or religion, or any other socially constructed category. A pathogen chooses ANY host within their proximity. A pathogen spreads by being close enough to jump from host to host through respiratory droplets, and does not care if the target host is your family member, friend, child, democrat, republican, etc. There is no “wiggle room” to edge your personal and subjective nonsense into the physical act of pathogenic transmission. Not wearing a mask does not display your dedication to your political base. It is not an exercise of personal freedom. We all live in this world together and have a responsibility to our fellow humans. Your personal rights end when they infringe on the health and safety of others. Choosing to disobey mandates from public health officials for personal and selfish interests only illuminates the ever-expanding social affliction of our western society, an unfettered, shameless, and undeserved sense of personal entitlement.

While this window into our more grotesque social attributes may be unpleasant, there is also a window for opportunity. An opportunity to separate fact from fiction, science from politics, and right from wrong. As we celebrate the 4th of July, let us remember that what “made America great” was the collective nature of our spirit. When we shed the toxic aura of divisiveness we can begin to come together and support everyone. When we work together to solve such catastrophic dilemmas, we can do so while also looking out for each other with love and compassion. Being American means helping those who need help, sacrificing some of our personal pleasures for the greater good of our communities, and working towards being selfless, not selfish. The coronavirus is not a political issue, it is a public health issue, and it is deadly. Celebrate your freedom to be an American by respecting and protecting those around you by wearing your mask and adhering to recommendations and mandates by our public health officials.

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