John Colson: Just wear a mask and keep your distance |

John Colson: Just wear a mask and keep your distance

John Colson
Hit & Run

If an unbiased observer — say, someone from Mars — were to study our world’s reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that observer probably would conclude that the wealthiest nation on Earth (that’s us, or U.S. if you prefer) has done the absolutely worst job of protecting its citizenry from the novel coronavirus, which is the virus that causes COVID.

There are a number of reasons for that abysmal performance, but the most obvious is that far too many U.S. citizens refuse to believe that the pandemic is real, mostly because no one close to them has died of it.

Even here in the Roaring Fork Valley, where we long prided ourselves on being just about the smartest population center in Colorado (though perhaps that assessment is a little out of date), we have enough COVID deniers to make it kind of risky to walk into certain local stores with an eye toward doing a little retail business.

I know this is true because just last weekend I had an encounter at a local shop (I’ve decided not to name them, in the hope that they might mend their ways) involving the cashier/clerk of the moment and a man said to be a member of the shop’s board of directors.

Neither individual was wearing a mask when I entered, and I noticed afterward that where once there had been a sign on the door directing customers to wear a mask, that sign had disappeared.

Nevertheless, I was wearing a mask and, when the two reached a pause in their discussion, I smiled and asked the man in what I thought was a perfectly polite way, “Where’s your mask?”

The reaction was a bit stunning, as he turned his unexpectedly flat and expressionless visage my way and intoned, “I don’t need to wear a mask. I’m immune.” He broke into a very small smile after delivering this remark.

I objected to his viewpoint, pointing out that the wearing of masks is as much for the protection of others (including me) as it was for himself, to which he responded dismissively with some rather quiet comment I cannot recall, but at one point said that a decision to forego a mask should be viewed as a strike against “tyranny.”

I said something about such arrogance being dismaying to me, and turned away to do a little more shopping. But as he left the store he said something that truly floored me: “There is no pandemic, and there is no virus.”

I know, this kind of thinking has a certain currency in the U.S. today, most of it from supporters of President Donald J. Trump and his enablers in Washington D.C., all of whom have been just as dismissive of the pandemic and its deadly effects as this guy was.

After he had left, the cashier proceeded to upbraid me for being “so rude” in saying what I did, and opining that such a thing had never happened in her presence before.

When I pressed my point that the wearing of masks to stop the spread of COVID is a community health issue (not to mention the law of the region), and that refusal to do so was a problem, she suggested angrily, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t shop here any more.”

That “thump” you may have heard was my jaw dropping to the floor, both at being on the receiving end of such hostility from a person I had counted as a friend and fellow progressive, as well as hearing something like this from someone whose livelihood depends to some degree on good customer relations.

“OK, I’ll be going then,” I said, hearing her retort, “Well, good,” as I moved toward the door.

I should point out that I’d been a regular shopper at this store, in part because I prefer, when possible, to shop in locally owned stores rather than in corporate franchises.

I’m still not sure if I will simply drop that shop from my list, and I’m not even sure if I should follow a friend’s advice and call the cops, or the county health department, or somebody, to do what I could to get the store to follow the law and protect the health of the community.

As mentioned above, I firmly believe that the pandemic is a serious threat to the health and safety of people around the globe, as evidenced by the deaths of more than 289,000 U.S. residents, and more than 1.5 million around the world.

It alarms me that otherwise intelligent people seem willing, even eager to believe our government is lying to us about all this, especially as I personally know of several people who have died of COVID since it arrived in the U.S. early in 2020.

I’m trying to maintain an even keel about this recent encounter, and have some hope about reviving my friendship with the cashier I mentioned earlier.

But, as my buddy Frosty Merriott asked in a column this week, I have to wonder: “Who are these aliens who are so inconsiderate and selfishly think only of themselves? What trauma have they been subjected to that has short-circuited their humanity? Could it be too much reality TV? Can even one of them explain to me why the greatest country in the world (since WWII) with 3% of the world’s population has 20% of the COVID deaths and sickness?!”

I await further enlightenment, and I urge everyone to wear a mask and practice healthy distancing.