“You don’t need to wear that anymore,” a friend stated confidently last month, pointing at my mask during a visit at his house. He has had his Covid-19 vaccine but mixes, unmasked, with both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
“Why are you still wearing a mask?” another friend inquired of me irritably at a picnic last month where both vaccinated and unvaccinated were in attendance. We were sitting less than 3 feet apart. She was unmasked, and I did not know her vaccination status.
I have been called overreactive, too covered up and way too scared. At least two of my acquaintances tell me they have experienced similar chiding about masking in public; one of them has become so self-conscious that she is uncomfortable stepping out of her house unless she has to.
Why must we mask wearers justify ourselves during a pandemic — especially since, while breakthrough infections are incredibly rare (less than 1% of fully vaccinated people have become infected, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of official state data), the vaccine does not provide 100% protection. What’s more anyone can carry or transmit the virus. Don’t we have the right — and the responsibility — to wear a mask?
Given that there are so many unknowns about the Covid-19 virus, its constant new variants — particularly the surging Delta variant — and the staying power of the vaccine, many of us prudent, vaccinated Americans wear the mask as an extra layer of protection.
We know we are in the minority — wearing a mask is a bother: It makes breathing harder, is visually displeasing and is even offensive to some people — but since America has not reached herd immunity and the virus is so contagious, we feel it judicious and within our rights to wear a mask.
And we shouldn’t be shamed for it.
We shouldn’t be shamed for wanting to maximize our own protection and wanting to avoid carrying the virus into our communities — especially to those, like children, who are yet unprotected by a vaccine through no fault of their own. Moreover, some people have underlying medical issues or allergies that prevent them from getting the shot, leaving them vulnerable even to vaccinated people.
Some of us would rather be preventative than reactive. We do not wish to wait until states or cities like Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, rush to make mask wearing mandatory in the face of surging hospitalizations from the Delta variant. All of us should have learned a difficult lesson from the past year and a half watching people fall ill with the virus and die. Some who were infected are now suffering from long-term health complications.
Wearing a mask is the least intrusive, least painful thing we can do to prevent Covid-19 from spreading. It is a necessity, and those of us who do it have every right to — without the need for disagreeable comments from anyone.
Unfortunately, there are those in this country who take an opposing view, and they are usually the most insistent scolds. For personal, political and/or religious reasons, those in this group adamantly refuse to wear a mask. They complain that mandatory mask requirements “infringe on their rights,” though they have yet to explain coherently what this means.
Alas, these kinds of decisions from leaders put everyone at risk — and give aid and comfort to anti-maskers who hassle those of us who mask.
The one obvious difference between the two groups is that those who refuse to wear a mask when they are around other people are choosing to exercise their “right” to put self over the community, even as the risks of Covid-19 are shared by one and all. Those who wear a mask, on the other hand, especially when not required to, are choosing to exercise their right to put health and the community over self, over individual freedom.
We mask wearers are protecting more than just ourselves. We are protecting everyone else around us. In times of a major crisis — one that puts the lives of a vast number of Americans at risk — when there are competing rights put to the fore, the right that results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people should prevail.
This is mask wearing because the goal throughout the Covid-19 fight is to preserve lives, and no one should be shamed for doing their share.
Thus, the next time someone points at my mask during these days of Covid-19 and snidely remarks, “There’s no need for that! You’re paranoid!” I will answer, “Absolutely not,” as I reach up to adjust my face covering, remembering that I am protecting everyone around me as well as myself.