August 16, 2021

Thoughts on Mask Mandates

I admit it— I don’t like wearing a mask. I particularly disliked wearing a mask until I found one that didn’t fog my glasses. (Grocery shopping was especially frustrating when everything on the shelf was a blur.) I wore a mask wherever I was told I should, and I stayed home except for needed trips to the supermarket or pharmacy.

America was doing a fair job of social distancing, wearing masks, and self-isolating if necessary. Nonetheless, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths increased steadily during the current pandemic until the development and deployment of effective vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Those vaccines promised to end the pandemic, though the threat of imported viruses could not easily or quickly be diminished. Nevertheless, President Biden’s Independence Day vaccination target seemed within reach. The CDC’s suggestion that the fully vaccinated could go maskless in most situations promised a return to the normality of the status quo ante.

Just when we were approaching definitive freedom from mask-wearing and COVID-19 anxiety, progress toward universal (or at least widespread) vaccination stalled. A significant segment of the population refused, irrationally, to be vaccinated. Moreover, the CDC’s advice about allowing the fully vaccinated to go maskless seemed to give permission for unvaccinated morons to do the same. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the rise again, particularly in areas where large majorities are unvaccinated.

In this surprisingly worsening stage of the pandemic, children are going back to school—not virtual school, but real, in-person school. In many districts, school boards are requiring everyone in school buildings to wear masks and for students to be separated as widely as possible. This seems a prudent response to the current state of the pandemic, particularly in light of the fact that many students are not only unvaccinated but also are not yet candidates for vaccination.

On the other hand, in states like Florida and Texas, we find governors issuing edicts banning mask mandates, whether for schools or other establishments. We also are seeing angry parents claiming their rights as parents to send their children to school without masks. The governors, of course, are pandering to their craziest yet politically important constituents. That group includes the angry mothers fighting for their right to send their children into harm’s way.

I am a staunch supporter of allowing people the freedom to be stupid and to act in personally destructive ways. However, a nation is not simply a collection of individuals having no relationship to one another. There are things we must do for the common good, including paying taxes and obeying laws. As a nation, we also act to protect children from danger, even when that danger is presented by a parent. Parents do not own their children as they might a washing machine, and they are not free to expose their children to unnecessary risks. In demanding the right to send children to school without masks, they are exposing not only their own children to potential harm but other children as well. This is not acceptable.

Citizens accept all sorts of “restrictions” on their freedom for the good of all. We obey traffic laws; we wear seatbelts; we pay our debts. Why has wearing a mask become such an intolerable imposition on our free will? We are generally required to wear clothes in public. Is that such a burdensome imposition? It only protects the sensibilities of others. Having to wear a mask can protect the very lives of others. Doesn’t that make wearing a mask even more important than wearing other clothing?

It is unfortunate that, in some circumstances, mask mandates are necessary. But they are.

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