The political and cultural wars over wearing face masks to fend off the coronavirus get more confounding by the day.
President Donald Trump started it by refusing to wear a mask himself and encouraging others who did the same — notwithstanding the strong recommendations of his own federal health agencies that we cover our faces in public.
Trump added a more bizarre political twist in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, claiming Americans who wear masks do so not to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, but to signal disapproval of him.
This kind of nonsensical thinking has translated in Hawaii, where we’ve generally been gracious in wearing face coverings as a courtesy to help protect fellow citizens from infection, into increasing cases of noncompliance as stores, salons, eateries and other businesses reopen.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell had to advise flustered business managers to call 911 when customers become belligerent over mask requirements.
Some mask deniers protest that face coverings aren’t necessary in Hawaii because the COVID rate is low. Actually, the opposite is true; we have relatively few cases because we’ve been so conscientious about masks and other social distancing precautions.
The value of even a simple cloth mask is recognized by virtually every credible medical and public health organization as we end lockdowns and reopen our economy.
In a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers who studied outbreaks in China, Italy and New York said wearing face masks may be the single most effective way to control the spread of the virus.
Masks provide the wearer some measure of protection, but more importantly they help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others. Except for those with severe respiratory conditions, there is no health danger in wearing a face covering.
Cries of “tyranny” and stolen liberty over mask requirements are just more drama at a time when we have plenty enough. It’s a mistake to conflate a little inconvenience for the good of the community with persecution.
We need to rediscover in our country how to cooperate with each other again and work together in common cause when we face a common threat. Fighting over everything is self-defeating, and masks are a fight we don’t need to have.
In a public health crisis, the only way out is to go with the best science we have. Face masks, with so much potential to help and so little downside, are a no-brainer.
So why not suck it up, put on the masks and save the fights for more important things?
Folks who won’t wear masks in these circumstances are the equivalent of those who don’t wash their hands after using a public restroom and come out giving high-fives.
Let’s not be like that.
Reach David Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.