When I think of masks, I think of The Lone Ranger, masquerade balls, kids' Halloween costumes and every single person in the hospital operating theater.
When COVID-19 arrived, we were told to wear masks anytime we were in public to stem the spread of a disease about which we still know little. In those first frightening weeks, we complied even though glasses steamed, ears were sore and faces felt hot.
I appreciate the creativity and generosity of those who spent hours seated in front of sewing machines making masks for hospital and other essential workers as well as strangers. I support nonprofits or businesses that turned mask making into revenue-generating ventures.
Now masks have become another symbol of our country's great division.
Mask wearers believe they are protecting themselves and others from the virus. They believe what doctors and scientists tell us about wearing masks, washing hands and respecting social distance.
Those who do not wear masks strongly believe the government does not have the right to tell us to mask up. They see it as an impingement on rights. It certainly is not the first time Americans have shown they don't like being told what to do, especially by the government.
While I understand the push back on mask-wearing, I do not understand the actions of the small group who resorted to violence over wearing masks.
You may recall the security guard at a Dollar General in Michigan who was shot in the head and died after he asked someone to don a mask, in compliance with a state order. That man was just doing his job. Could be he wasn't even a strong supporter of mask-wearing, but just wanted to keep his job.
A health official in Orange County, California, received a death threat and was targeted by anti-mask protesters who showed up at a public meeting displaying her photo with a Hitler mustache and swastikas. She quit.
Confrontations between mask wearers and non mask wearers have occurred across the country.
I suspect most of us are suffering from COVID-fatigue. We have whip-sawed between fear of a virus with no cure and economic hardship, bordering on devastation. Tempers are frayed, perhaps more than ever.
COVID, masks and shutdowns have become highly politicized. Messaging has been inconsistent from levels of government. Social media is poisoned with conspiracy theories. There are a few who still believe COVID is fake news, a Democratic strategy to win in November and nothing more serious than any other flu.
Those in congregate situations like nursing homes, prisons, businesses and communities like New York where many live and work in close proximity seem more susceptible. That includes a Dole salad packaging plant in Middletown, Ohio, where 200 COVID cases have been reported as of last week.
Those who are older, immunocompromised and minorities are more at risk of hospitalization and death Some shrugged and termed them “expendable.” As much as I abhor the overt acts of violence, I find the idea that some are expendable just as vile. That grows from the disgust I felt in my teens and 20s when hearing government officials call my friends and classmates serving in Vietnam “collateral damage” and “acceptable losses.” Wrong then, wrong now.
If I'm honest, I'm not sure my 20- or 40-year-old selves would have stayed close to home like my 70-year-old self is. All the initial reports indicated younger people were less susceptible. That seems to be changing as increasing numbers of younger people fall ill.
It's impossible to ignore surges in 22 states. Given they are predominantly south and west, the suggestion that COVID would disappear when it got hot is out the window. In Ohio, COVID cases over the weekend were much higher than recent daily averages. I don't know why. What I know is COVID is not gone, not by a long shot.
Doctors and scientists have provided a playbook to keep us safe as possible until there is a vaccine. I'm going to continue wearing a mask, maintaining 6 feet from people I don't know and washing my hands. However, I'm not going to “mask shame” those who choose to not wear a mask. It's their choice. I hope they stay healthy. I hope it does not result in a surge locally. I also hope they show the same respect for my choice.