OPINION: Wearing a mask shows compassion, not cowardice

Andrew Meiners

Since May 11, when Kentucky began its phased reopening after two months of a near-total shutdown, face coverings have become highly recommended for all patrons at grocery stores, restaurants and other places that frequently see large gatherings of people

However, most establishments have not been actively enforcing this, as there have been several reported incidents of violent confrontations between employees and customers who refuse to wear a mask.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the use of homemade cloth masks to fight COVID-19 since early Mar., as studies have shown it reduces the spread of the virus. Nonetheless, many still go out in public without taking any preventative measures, including refusing to wear a mask, failing to maintain a distance of six feet from others and gathering with friends and extended family that are at risk of serious complications if they were to be infected.

There are many reasons people have cited for choosing not to wear a mask in public. Some see it as an infringement on their civil liberties and think it should be their own decision over whether or not to wear a mask. Others say it makes it hard to breathe or is uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

There is also a common misconception that masks protect the wearer from being exposed to the virus. However, studies have shown that handmade masks, the masks used by the majority of the public, provide minimal protection for the wearer, and are much more effective at preventing transmission to others. While many who refuse to wear a mask think that they are only putting themselves in danger, in reality, they are risking the health and well-being of everyone around them.

Yet, even as public officials plead with their constituents to only leave their homes when necessary and following CDC recommendations when they must go out, groups have begun to gather outside state capitols in Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, and many other states to demand a reopening of the economy, while simultaneously refusing to socially distance or wear masks, with some protesters even carrying assault rifles. 

We are incredibly privileged to live in a free and developed society where the only things many have had to sacrifice are group gatherings and going into work. In many countries that lack the infrastructure we take for granted, people would be ecstatic to be able to work from home, have consistent access to food and home goods, and have peace of mind knowing their health care system was working to protect them at all costs.

Wearing a mask doesn’t say that you blindly follow the government. It doesn’t say that you follow the governor without critically thinking. It also doesn’t say you’re a coward or that you live in fear of the virus. It does, however, show that you are a responsible citizen that looks out for others.

After months of disease, death and hardship, there is still a blatant disregard for the safety of frontline employees, the immunocompromised, the elderly and health care workers. Wearing a mask is the absolute bare minimum to show that you want to see this virus eradicated and will do your part to protect those who are risking their lives to keep the country moving forward. 

Photo Credit: A surgical face mask used by medical professionals. Image licensed through Wikimedia Commons.