My conversion as a mask wearer has been gradual.
As some still are, I was skeptical that facial coverings would do much good to prevent contracting COVID-19. And if their benefit was marginal at best in blocking a microscopic particle, I reasoned, they weren’t worth the hassle and discomfort of wearing. It didn’t bother me if anyone else wore a mask, but I felt little compulsion to do so myself.
I hung my skepticism on a knee-jerk distrust of authority and the mixed signals that initially came from federal health officials, who originally said facial coverings were not recommended for the general public.
In hindsight, this was a lame excuse, one that was made only lamer by the mask-averse Donald Trump, who was still using it as late as the final days before the election.
The reason that Dr. Anthony Fauci and others discouraged widespread mask wearing during the early stages of the pandemic was because they were worried that a panicky nation would buy up the supply, leaving those who needed the protection most — health care workers — without it. That was an understandable fear. At points this year, the nation’s toilet paper supply had to be rationed because of panicky buying, and that was without any rational justification.
I first started warming up to masks listening to Dr. Thomas Dobbs during his daily briefings. The state health officer sounded awfully sincere, all but begging his listeners to wear them whenever they were in close public spaces. So, I started in the late spring to wear one when I went shopping for groceries and the like, but I still did not put one on at work.
Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams and the City Council got me over that hurdle. When they enacted an order in early July mandating masks at most businesses, the newspaper complied. I told our employees that I knew there were mixed feelings about the mandate, but we would follow the law. Most did so without grumbling.
The mandate also prompted me to re-evaluate my initial cost-benefit analysis to mask wearing. Although you can search the internet and find those who question the efficacy of masks, including some with decent medical credentials, they are in the vast minority. If you attribute any value to collective wisdom, not just here but around the world, the collective wisdom by far is that wearing a mask properly — including a cloth one — will reduce the odds that you might infect someone else. It could also prevent your own infection, or at least reduce how much of the virus gets into your system, and thus limit how sick you get if your immune system’s response is either too sluggish or too aggressive.
To resist this advice became pointlessly stubborn. The civil libertarians, who resent any government interference with personal choices, don’t like to acknowledge that it’s not just their health and their lives that are on the line. So, too, are those with whom they come into contact.
It’s like with seat belts. Maybe you have a philosophical justification for not buckling yourself up if that’s a personal risk you are prepared to take, no matter how scientifically foolish, but there is no good argument for leaving a child in your control unbuckled or not in a car seat. That’s child neglect.
Certainly, there are cases where people who have been faithful about wearing masks still become infected with the coronavirus. I am writing this from home as I await the results of a COVID test I took Friday — my first — after experiencing a couple of the symptoms. If the result comes back positive, it would not mean that wearing a mask was a waste. It would mean that, as with most safeguards, it’s not foolproof.
I don’t like masks. The back of my ears hurt after a long day with one on at the office. My glasses fog up unless I wear them toward the end of my nose, making me look older than I prefer. One of the joys of my day is yanking off the darned thing when I leave our building to go home for the night.
I don’t like shots either. But I get a flu shot every year because it reduces my chances of getting the flu and increases my chances of having a mild case of it if I do get sick.
In this life, you either trust those who have your interests at heart or you don’t. It took me a little while to get there with masks, but I did.