Meredith C. Carroll: You’re not making the statement you think by forsaking a mask
In a season four episode of the American version of the mockumentary television series “The Office,” Dunder Mifflin Scranton regional manager, Michael Scott, actively pursues absolution from his crippling financial debt.
“I declare bankruptcy!” he announces with flourish to his co-workers.
Of course there’s an unambiguous distinction between literally declaring bankruptcy and actually doing it, much in the same way that saying no evidence exists on the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t make it so.
America is once again exceeding expectations in a typically American way. It wasn’t enough to be No. 1 in incarceration rates and home to the fattest people and more illegal drug users, murderers and reported rapists than any other developed nation on Earth. Now the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reports the COVID-19 infections and deaths in the United States are more than double anywhere else, with numbers continuing to rise alarmingly in the wrong direction. No one worth their weight (or advanced degree) has claimed any single preventative measure to be the cure, but the best available information points to properly worn masks as both basic and essential.
At the same time, precious oxygen is being squandered on a mask-wearing debate. It’s not about the occasional misplaced N95, inadvertently abandoned bandana or deciding on any given morning to walk the dog with a naked face. The people in charge of science (who are not to be confused with Donald “one day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear” Trump, or your Facebook friend from seventh-grade who still can’t spell “science”) have strong data that reveal how virus transmission can be reduced by eliminating respiratory droplets from the equation. Otherwise lots more people die; it’s that simple.
Yet alongside headlines of dire news about a global pandemic plus a monumental push for a more just existence for Black, indigenous and people of color are the stories of those who refuse to wear life-saving masks because they don’t like being told what to do.
(Wait until the anti-maskers hear about the ways in which the government tries to control women’s bodies.) No one is telling them to shut their mouths, only cover them with protective material. Sprinkle in some mandates, fines, death threats and cries of stifled personal liberties and a fairly basic issue has metamorphosed into, well, an issue.
It’s neither helpful nor surprising that the nation’s gaslighter-in-chief, Trump, refuses to wear a mask, won’t require those around him to wear masks or encourage mask use among his supporters (although Tuesday he helpfully tweeted his “authorization” to “arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S,” so there’s that).
David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the NYU School of Global Public Health, suggested to MarketWatch that some eschew masks because “it may be a reaction (or overreaction) to authority. There’s a certain bravado of being angry and defying requirements to wear a mask,” he said. Or, “they don’t want to admit that this is the new normal. They want the old America that they’re used to.” The disconnect seems to be in realizing that rebounding to pre-coronavirus life necessarily necessitates no more COVID-19, and until a vaccination is produced, masks (and soap) are the closest thing to a silver bullet.
Face masks aren’t a liberal democrat dog whistler or subversive attack on free speech. On the contrary, why not use masks as a means of personal expression: make it great with MAGAs or adorn it in Confederate flags, for example. If masks are symbolic of anything at this juncture, it’s not loss of liberty but rather respect for life. The only thing about face masks that should keep you up at night is not that you have to wear one but the scientific data that illustrates how not wearing one risks human lives. Because in the case of face masks, the difference between making a statement and taking a stand has proven to be life and death.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.
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