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  • Writer's picturestephanieraffelock

Pandemics, Politics and Masks, Oh My

The whole mask thing is exhausting. I don’t mean wearing a mask. I understand that pathogens can be passed through air. I see a mask as a protection for me (even though I am vaccinated) and as a protection for my neighbors who may not be vaccinated. The unknown factor in all of this is whether or not you can you be a carrier once you’re vaccinated. Since we don’t know that yet, I will continue to wear a mask until herd immunity.

The part that’s exhausting to me is the conversation about masks that start out “my personal freedoms are being encroached upon . . .” What I find difficult to understand is how wearing a mask as protection for your self and others in the midst of a pandemic that has killed over a half a million people is a political issue. Maybe it comes down to the definition of freedom.

The word freedom means “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” But what do we do about the right to act when it comes to others in our society? What if I believe that the right to act means I can destroy my neighbor’s property because I don’t like the way they’ve done their landscaping? Does the right to act mean that companies can discriminate against employees based on gender, color or religion? And does the right to act as I want to mean that I don’t have to take anyone else into account in a pandemic, because I think that wearing a mask violates my freedom?

Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. This country has always had regulations, laws and policies which govern our behavior based on the greater good for the society. That’s what traffic laws do, what anti-discrimination laws do. Yet, throughout this pandemic, we somehow managed to politicize the health recommendation of wearing a mask, making it an us and them battle ground, as opposed to a health issue. I fear that the division of mask wearers and non-mask wearers goes so much deeper than just a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth.

It’s as if someone took a shark knife and sliced our country in half, everything, including the current public health crisis falls on one side of the line or the other. Each side believes that their position is the right one. There’s no room for discussion. Or, any chance of discussion quickly devolves into argument and name calling, depending upon which television channel you watch.

I don’t like the position that we’re in. The feeling of us and them feels like a breeding ground for hatred and conspiracy – you know, the old “just because you're paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you” kind of mentality. While the argument around masks continues, I keep hoping that a) enough people will get the vaccine so that we reach herd immunity soon, and b) people will somehow become less tribal and less political when it comes to the arena of public health.

There are those who are going to shed their masks too soon, either because they don’t believe in science or they’re making a political statement. I can only hope that they will not be the spreaders of new variants that could hurt all of us. As for me, I’m grateful that I can now hang with my vaccinated girlfriends face to face and I have no problem wearing a mask out in public. It’s a simple issue of public health -- what's best for the overall good.

Surgeons wear masks in surgery to keep the patient on the operating table safe. We teach kids to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze. Yet somehow the masks that we’re asked to wear to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus has become a political hot potato. I wish I knew the work around for our society’s tribalism. I long for unity and standing together to help one another.

Freedom is the right to act the way that you want to without hinderance. Laws, regulations and hopefully common sense tell us that the right to act without hinderance, only holds true provided that our actions do not bring harm to someone else. I live by a code that says, I do not want to bring harm to anyone else. To that end, I’ll be accessorizing with masks until I hear from the scientists that it’s safe to shed them.

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