Please wear a mask to protect others

One of my most unsettling experiences related to the coronavirus occurred early during the outbreak.

We had just closed the newspaper offices and were working from home when I got an assignment that should have involved a short phone interview, but the guy wanted me to come to his home. Against my better judgment, I went.

His home office was close quarters. I sat a few feet away. He wasn’t wearing a mask. Being polite, he said I could take mine off.  I said I would rather keep it on because I didn’t want to risk giving my elderly parents the virus if I should get it.

What he said next left me speechless.

“If you’ve got it, I want you to sneeze right into my mouth so I can get the antibodies and quarantine in the basement and be done with it,” he said.

He leaned across the desk while he was talking, and at one point I felt a tiny drop of spit hit my face.

He was a nice guy, and I’m sure he only wanted me to feel at ease in his home, but he was dismissive of what has become the deadliest pandemic in more than a century. COVID-19 has killed half a million Americans, more than we’ve lost in all our wars combined except for the Civil War.

Only days ago, a friend in Bardstown lost his father to COVID. He was my age. Not long ago, another friend and former coworker here at the Sun lost his mom. At least one of my first cousins was sick with it. So many people I’ve interviewed have had it. Almost every story I’ve written in the past year has been connected in some way to it, whether it was about a virtual high school graduation or a deadly outbreak at a veterans nursing home.

In my line of work, I’m constantly around people who won’t wear masks. Or they wear one to get through the door, then take it off. Or they’ll wear it until they’re two feet from my face, then lower it to talk, which is when it’s needed most! Or they’ll wear it over their mouth but not their nose, which not only looks stupid, but makes wearing it pointless.

COVID-19 is an airborne respiratory disease that is spread by microscopic water particles in one’s breath when one is talking, coughing or just breathing.

For practical reasons, they say stay six feet apart, but your breath carries farther than that, as you know if a smoker walks into the room, and you smell the residual fumes on his breath from 20 feet away.

Here’s the thing – your own mask offers you only a little protection. The reason you’re supposed to wear a mask is to protect other people from your breath. It’s their mask, not yours, that protects you. So let’s return the favor.

Maybe you think you don’t need to wear one because you don’t think you have the virus. But you don’t know that you don’t have it. No one does unless they were tested within the last hour. Every health professional will tell you that you are most infectious when you  first get the virus and don’t know you’ve got it — before you show any symptoms at all.

Masks are bothersome, I know. I’m somewhat hearing impaired, but if I wear mask bands over my hearing aids, I’ll lose the hearing aids, which cost a lot more than a mask to replace, so I only use them if I’m at a meeting or some place where I have to have them. Also, I can’t hear you as well or read your lips if you’re wearing your mask.

I’m also asthmatic, so I don’t breathe well while wearing a mask, but I wear one anyway, because a person with asthma who gets COVID has a far greater risk of becoming seriously ill or dying of the disease than a person with strong lungs.

I wear my mask anytime I’m around anyone who isn’t part of my household. It’s the responsible, adult thing to do.

But what about freedom? I’m a strong advocate of individual rights, but refusing to show consideration for other people’s wellbeing or right to life is an odd way to assert one’s liberty, isn’t it? It’s not like the right to vote or freedom to worship or speak.

It’s unpatriotic to say you’re not going to do your part to help overcome the greatest threat to our country and its way of life since the influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed more people than the Great War and which resulted in the same kinds of social distancing restrictions and mask wearing that we’re experiencing now. I haven’t read about people protesting infringement of their freedom not to mask in those days.

Individual liberty without social responsibility is the ideology of a juvenile. It is not all about you.

If it annoys you that a business owner asks you to wear a mask, put yourself in his place. He wants to protect his workers, his customers, his business. He has a right to expect you to wear a mask and social distance. It’s his place, his rules.

The cashier who risks her life every day to provide you and your family food, clothing and other necessities has a right to expect you not to put her and her children or her elderly mother in jeopardy.

Do you want to see the economy rebound? The longer we don’t do the little things we know we should do, such as getting vaccinated, avoiding crowds, keeping our distance from strangers and wearing masks, the longer it’s going to take for things to get back to normal.

Do you want your kids to have an ordinary school experience? They have sacrificed a whole year, and so have you. But the longer we go out and about unprotected, the more often kids are going to be exposed and their class or soccer team is going to have to quarantine, and the more likely the superintendent or governor is going to have to close the schools again.

We can loosen restrictions — a little — but if we start acting like everything is normal already, there will be a fourth wave. The CDC and all the infectious disease experts have warned us of that. I’ve never read of a pandemic that didn’t last at least two years.

Actually, the coronavirus may be with us forever, but the rapid development of effective vaccines gives us hope that if enough of us are inoculated every year, we may greatly reduce the spread of the disease and build up  a natural resistance to the point where most who are exposed don’t get it, most who get it don’t get sick, and most who get sick don’t die. It’s sort of like with most influenzas.

We may win the fight for survival, but we aren’t near the end of it.

We don’t know how long the vaccines last or how long it will be until most people are vaccinated or how many of us have to be vaccinated to build herd immunity.

That’s why it’s important for all of us to continue to do the small things that make a difference. Avoid crowds. Keep six feet away from other people. Wash your hands or use sanitizer before and after handling anything. Wear a mask. Don’t frequent businesses where the employees and other customers don’t wear masks.

Do it for yourself, but also for others.

We’re all in this together.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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