Let’s not mince words. Time is short.
COVID-19 is a virulent, relentless, deadly virus. As of Sunday night, June 28, it had infected nearly 2.5 million people in this country and had claimed over 125,000 American lives, many of those deaths preventable.¹ We are currently experiencing all-time peaks in seven states, with nine states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona, rolling back or delaying their reopening plans.² Because of our high infection rate and the number of deaths, both of which lead the entire world (24.9% and 25.0% respectively, despite us representing only 5.0% of the Earth’s population), plus our inability to control the virus, the European Union announced last week that it is likely to bar U.S. citizens from entering any of its countries.³ That puts us in the same dubious category with Russia and other countries unable to contain the virus. We’re just too risky, too unsafe, too dangerous to mingle with their citizens.
Did you ever imagine that U.S. citizens would be denied entry to a foreign country due to the health threat we pose?
The number of confirmed cases + the number of deaths + the horrifying upward trend throughout the country is the very definition of failure. We have been failed. We are failing.
You know the story. We have no effective treatment. We have no vaccine. We have no nationwide plan, no consistency across states, no coordinated communication effort, and no comprehensive testing and contract tracing program. Worse, many of our elected leaders, especially at the national level, are blatantly and proudly ignoring the CDC’s guidance about prevention.
We are nowhere near the end of this. It is going to get worse, much worse, before it begins to improve.
Do not believe anyone who downplays the severity or the power of COVID-19. This includes the president, the vice president, others in the administration, and the opinion people at Fox News. They are not speaking with knowledge of the science of the virus. It appears they are attempting to mislead us, possibly trick us into complacency, suggesting that the coronavirus is being exaggerated and is somehow a nefarious, diabolical plot created by Democrats. By giving people rationale, albeit it baseless, to avoid preventative measures, they are contributing to the pandemic, not helping slow its destruction. They are part of the problem. Unwittingly, they will get many of us sick, kill others and delay a desperately-needed economic recovery.
Three recently-released rigorous academic studies confirm this point. Infection and mortality rates are markedly higher in places where conservative media — namely Fox News — reaches the largest audiences. “We are receiving an incredible number of studies and solid data showing that consuming far-right media and social media content was strongly associated with low concern about the virus at the onset of the pandemic,” said Irene Pasquetto, chief editor of the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, which published one of the studies.⁴ The research also indicates, not surprisingly, that those who hold a low concern for the virus tend not to believe that protective behavior, like physical distancing and the wearing of a mask in public, is necessary.
(My mother, were she alive to witness this, would be livid that anyone purposely misrepresented the severity of the pandemic, especially people in power and those with influence on television. I can only imagine the string of highly colorful, incredibly vulgar epithets that would pour from her lips, delivered only as she could. Count yourself among the lucky, Sean Hannity. You, too, Mr. President. You’d both be high on her list. And let’s be clear: neither of you would be a fair match for her.)
If our nation’s leaders were concerned about our well-being, it certainly doesn’t show. But if they were, they’d tell us:
Stay healthy, stay safe. Wash your hands regularly, carry hand sanitizer with you at all times and use it often, stay away from others, and wear a mask. If you don’t, you may become infected and/or inadvertently transmit the virus to someone else, possibly to someone you love. Don’t gamble by not wearing a mask. It’s not a bet you want to make, because it might soon involve a ventilator for you and/or for someone you care about.
This is not about politics, they’d say, nor about individual freedom, the First Amendment, patriotism, religion, pride or machismo. This is about avoiding illness, avoiding death and not killing others. It’s about controlling the virus. If you are impatient about getting back to ‘normal,’ the best thing you can do, they’d tell us, is help prevent the spread of the virus by wearing a mask.
Sadly, we’ve heard none of this from them. And we likely won’t.
Many are furious about the mandate to wear a mask. Such is the nature of our American individualism, our freedom-first culture. Such, too, is the nature of selfishness. A video captured a microcosm of common arguments made in rejection of the need to wear masks in public.⁵ The time was last week; the place was Palm Beach, Florida. It could have been anywhere. As I watched each person rant, which I urge you to do, I wondered: Why are you not interested in protecting yourself or others? Do you have children? Parents? Friends? Is it so hard or demeaning to wear a mask in public? Do you know how dangerous COVID-19 is, that it can kill? Do you use seatbelts, drink while you drive, smoke in front of others? Don’t you realize that this is temporary? Why are you so angry?
They are not alone. Among many others, add city councilman Guy Phillips of Scottsdale, Arizona to the list of people who believe they have the freedom — the right — to not wear a mask, even if it leads to others becoming infected.⁶ He organized a protest last week entitled ‘Unmask Us!’ to undermine the mayor’s mandate to wear a mask. That Arizona is in the midst of a dramatic spike in confirmed cases was apparently lost on him and on those who attended the protest.
And don’t believe what you might find littered throughout the Internet, as some sites are attempting to convince you that mask wearing is an affront to ‘freedom and personal liberty.’ One group is issuing laminated ‘Face Mask Exempt’ cards, complete with an American eagle to give it an official look and, just possibly, more authority.⁷ The group’s purpose: to allow the card bearer to avoid wearing a face mask, because masks ‘silence and muzzle’ the wearer. Like a Monopoly ‘Get Out of Jail’ card, but much more dangerous.
You know what is an affront to freedom and personal liberty, what silences and muzzles? Illness and death. I wonder how that will work out for them, and for anyone unlucky enough to get close to these card-bearing, mask-less freedom fighters.
There are myriad stories online of nurses, doctors, patients and families describing the horrors of COVID-19. The first-hand accounts are heartbreaking.⁸ Scared patients, medical professionals struggling to soothe and heal, family members unable to hold the hand of and comfort the dying, the constant death. These videos should be required viewing for anyone unwilling to wear a mask and those who choose not to take other simple safety precautions. Remember, 2.5 million Americans have been or are infected with this nasty, debilitating virus and over 125,000 have already died, with no end in sight.
So, what are we to do? We can’t save all of humanity. But we can try.
Start by wearing a mask. If you see someone in public, in line, in a store, on a bus or train, within close proximity without a mask, say something. Be polite, but say something. You have the right. Science is on your side, having proven definitively that masks protect you and others from the virus. Morality is also on your side. This is not the time to worry about what others will think of you, nor is this the time to remain silent. There is no time. Your life and the lives of your loved ones may depend on it.
COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, especially as some people openly reject basic, commonsensical, science-based preventative measures and do so with disdain, as we saw in Palm Beach and Scottsdale. At this rate, the virus is here to stay, possibly for years. In part, we have those to thank who choose not to wear masks and those who promote the avoidance of mask-wearing. They will help spread and prolong the pandemic. They will help slow the economic recovery. They will cause people to become ill and some to die. They will contribute to our being isolated and unwanted in every country on Earth.
Our ONLY hope is for every single one of us to do the four things we can do: wash our hands, use hand sanitizer, keep our distance from others, and wear a mask.
It’s all we’ve got.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, June 28; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/