On June 20 of last year I wrote the following words in this column: “I have never wore a mask, and likely never will, unless I have to, or the pandemic grows much worse than it currently is.”
The “unless” part came much quicker than expected. Not long after those comments were published, orders came down informing us we were to wear masks in all public locations, along with many other restrictions. I did not like it, but I have wore a mask wherever I am required to since.
Much has changed since I wrote those words in June, including my outlook on wearing a mask.
Just the other day my wife and I were shopping and when she pulled our cart into the checkout line, there was a family of five was checking out. None of them were wearing masks. I did not like it. I tried to grab my wife’s attention before she pulled up alongside them, but it was too late. A few seconds later they moved on, and I felt better, but not for long. Right in behind the first family stepped a family of six, with not a single one wearing a mask. I just shook my head.
I suppose having three babies under six months old in the family has something to do with my about-face on the mask issue. But it is more than that.
I do not know if masks protect anyone from anything. My assumption is that they work to some degree. How much of a degree up for debate.
But I can tell you this. From the time I was a young teenager, probably younger, until I was in my mid 20s, I helped my father insulate lots of houses. The insulation we primarily used was called cellulose fiber. It was basically ground up newspaper treated with chemicals to make it fire retardant, rodent retardant, etc. It was gray and mostly dust-like.
When we went to insulate attics in people’s homes, we always wore a mask, and they were much more heavy duty masks than the masks people are wearing today. They fit so tight, in fact, that when we went to take them off, you could see their outline imprinted on our faces. Still, if we blew our nose anytime the rest of the night, we would blow gray snot into a Kleenex, and the particles of insulation — much larger than germ particles — were clearly visible.
So, no, the masks are not a cure-all. That’s why we are also asked to wash our hands frequently, and maintain a social distance of at least six feet.
Doing all those things does not mean you won’t catch the COVID-19 virus. It does not mean you will not pass it on to someone else. But I now firmly believe those things reduce the chance of spreading or catching the virus.
And that’s the whole point. While we cannot eliminate the spread of the virus, other than possibly through a couple or more vaccinations, we can slow it down. The more we slow it down, the closer we get to a return to normalcy. And isn’t that what we all want?
The new president has vowed to take more aggressive measures to contain the virus than his predecessor, starting with strict adherence to public health guidance. With the virus spreading in most states, slow progress on the vaccine rollout and political uncertainty over whether congressional Republicans will help him pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief and COVID response package, he faces lots of obstacles, according to the Associated Press.
“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the virus requires a coordinated nationwide effort.”
The U.S. mask order for travel being implemented by the new president will apply to airports and planes, ships, intercity buses, trains and public transportation. Travelers from abroad must furnish a negative COVID-19 test before departing for the U.S. and quarantine upon arrival. The new president has already mandated masks on federal property.
Although airlines, Amtrak and other transport providers now require masks, Biden’s order makes it a federal mandate, leaving little wiggle room for passengers tempted to argue about their rights.
I know you’re tired of wearing a mask. I know you are tired of all the other restrictions.
But if we are going to beat this thing, it’s going to take a little effort from everyone. It’s going to take some trust in our health officials. I have no idea about the character of health officials at the national and state level, but I can tell you I have full faith in Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner, and he is preaching mostly the same things as those at the state and national level.
I know some think the virus all some part of a some conspiracy, but c’mon folks. The virus has reached all corners of the world. It has killed literally millions of people (yes, I believe the numbers are overinflated, too, but that’s another story), and it is time for everyone to start fighting back.
So wear a mask, wash your hands, and socially distance. If not for yourself, do it for others. You will never know how much you helped, but if you could save one life by following the guidelines — even extend a life for a few days, a couple months or maybe years — why would you not?
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.