Have you seen videos on social media of conniption fits some people are throwing in public when asked to don a face mask in retail establishments? The ones I’ve viewed happened in grocery stories in Colorado, California and elsewhere.
Here in Virginia, such actions directly defy an order by Gov. Ralph Northam that became effective May 29. That applies to just about anyone 10 or older in just about any indoor public setting. (There’s an exemption for patrons eating or drinking in restaurants.)
Despite that, nobody in the Roanoke Valley or beyond has to venture far from home to witness bare-faced customers in supermarkets, hardware stores or pharmacies.
So what gives? Don’t these people realize they’re endangering retail workers and the rest of us? Don’t they care?
One reader who does is Joseph Elligson of Roanoke, who urged me to write this column.
“So many individuals are not wearing a mask or maintaining social distancing,” he wrote in an email.
Another is Dr. Tom Strong of Moneta, a retired orthopedic surgeon.
“Does the American public have a death wish?” he asked in an email last week. “Everywhere I go people are blatantly ignoring the safety precautions. If one wears a mask and keeps their distance there is at least a 50% decrease in transmitting or catching the disease according to some studies.”
There seem to be three basic reasons a minority of people are flouting the wearing of masks.
One is, some believe the order violates their “constitutional rights.” They’ve been encouraged by certain non-mask-wearing Western sheriffs who have made videos urging people not to be “sheep.”
The part of the U.S. Constitution that addresses face masks is the same section that permits drivers to speed through red lights. In other words, it doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t stop certain libertarians-run-amok from proclaiming it, along with “the Right to Ignorance” and “the Right to Do Whatever the Hell They Want.”
To check this, I consulted a respected (and now retired) Virginia circuit court judge, Martin Clark of Stuart. He was vacationing in Montana — the state with the fewest number of coronavirus cases — when I asked him about this via email.
“Putting the law aside, common sense and common decency ought to be the only requirements we need as citizens to wear a mask,” Clark wrote back. “Why do we even need to have the discussion? Are there really people who would selfishly insist that the ‘right’ to endanger their neighbors and my family is both moral and legal?”
Another category of mask eschewers are people who claim “a medical condition.” This is another exemption in the governor’s order, and it seems to be a kind of undefined catch-all.
Strong, who noted he’s not an infectious disease or lung specialist, regards such claims skeptically.
He said that surgeons in operating rooms wear face coverings to protect patients from being infected by medical personnel. The same principal applies with transmission of COVID-19.
The other day in public, Strong said, he encountered a healthy-appearing and bare-faced young man who looked like “a linebacker.”
“I said, ‘Son, where’s your mask?’” Strong told me. “He said, ‘I have a medical condition.’ I said, ‘B-------!”
Strong urged me to talk to a lung specialist to see if there are indeed ailments that could be worsened by wearing a mask.
So I called Dr. Kellogg Hunt, a retired pulmonologist and former chief of medicine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Hunt said the type of face coverings the governor has ordered people to wear in public “does not lower the level of oxygen in the blood.” Nor have they been showed to increase carbon dioxide levels.
But N-95 medical masks, which hospital personnel frequently wear, might raise CO2 levels if they’re worn all day.
Conceivably, cloth face coverings could affect people who suffer from lung cancer, emphysema, chronic pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis or chronic asthma, Hunt said. The latter, he noted, is not same thing as run-of-the-mill asthma, the kind most asthmatics suffer from. Face coverings shouldn’t affect them.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s been politicized,” Hunt told me.
Which bring us to the third category of individual not wearing a face mask while out and about, as our nation struggles to get its economy rolling again.
That would be people who have been influenced in the other direction by our nation’s leaders.
Namely, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Of the two, the president has flaunted his barefacedness to the greatest extreme. When he held a campaign rally June 20 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before a crowd of about 6,200, Trump wore no mask. Almost everyone in that crowd followed suit.
The same thing occurred when Trump spoke to a crowd of roughly 3,000 people at a Students for Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 23.
Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence, but infections in both states have risen to alarming levels since each of those events.
Perhaps it’s also a coincidence that six members of Trump’s advance team tested positive for novel coronavirus before the rally, and that two members of the Secret Service tested positive afterward. Dozens of other members of the Secret Service were ultimately quarantined because they had contact with their two infected colleagues.
And then there was the occasion June 5 in Guilford, Maine, when the president toured Puritan Medical Products, a manufacturer of cotton swabs used in tests for the novel coronavirus.
Photos from that event show workers in the production facility wearing white lab coats, hair nets, gloves and face masks as they manufactured the swabs. Company officials who accompanied Trump wore face masks, too.
But not the president.
The company declined to say why — but isn’t the reason obvious?
The fact that the president is still refusing to wear face coverings in public settings is probably the most potent signal to the rest of us that we should.
Come on, people. Put on your mask!