Wear a mask; It’s the selfless thing to do

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I, like most people, am a huge fan of TV and movie series. I love following a story for years and watching how plots and characters progress.


Even more so, I love taking the concepts I see in movies and TV shows and applying them to reality. I think fiction sometimes has a way of revealing and explaining real-life situations better than we even can.


When you start a TV series for the first time, season one is crucial. The characters are always introduced to some kind of antagonist or villain. At the beginning of the season, the characters may be fumbling around trying to figure out how to stop that antagonist. By the end of the season, though, they’re more experienced and more equipped to defeat the villain, and they do.


Then, a few seasons go by, and all of a sudden around season four or five, that antagonist re-enters the picture. He or she is still a serious threat, but this time the characters are entering the conflict more prepared. They already know this antagonist. This is a familiar situation. They know better this time how to get the upper hand. 


In the midst of the latest COVID-19 developments for both our state and local parishes, it really feels like we’re living in that TV series formula.


COVID-19 entered the picture as our antagonist months ago, we got it mostly under control and now it’s back, leaving us with the choice of how to respond.


Back in March, when the virus started showing up locally, there wasn’t much we knew about it yet. We didn’t really know how to contain it or how to safely co-exist with it while awaiting a vaccine. Thus, stay-at-home orders were the answer.


At its coronavirus “peak” in early April, Louisiana was seeing well above 1,000 cases a day. By May, though, we managed to bring our daily case increases into the 300s. I think this goes without saying, but that’s a huge deal.


Here we are now, though, well into Phase 2 of the coronavirus reopening plan, and we’re seeing an astronomical rise in cases. Right now, we’re witnessing some of Louisiana’s largest increases in cases since those peak times in early April. 


We’re in season four or five, folks. COVID-19 is a familiar beast at this point. We know a little more about the virus now. We know how to contain it. 


So, what exactly is going wrong? Why is the virus spiking again despite our increased knowledge of how it works?


The answer is simple: we’re not using what we’ve learned or the resources we have to get the upper hand on the virus. 


And what are those resources? You guessed it: masks and social distancing.


I’m going to begin by sharing an infographic that sets up my point better than I ever could:


(Source: https://gvwire.com/2020/05/30/community-medical-centers-says-2-masks-6-feet-apart-no-covid-19-exposure/)


Right now, if you walk into any public place locally, mask-wearing is almost nonexistent. In other words, we’re operating in a high-risk/moderate-risk environment. The spread of COVID-19 is easy and inevitable, as we’re clearly seeing.


As shown in the infographic, though, if everyone wore masks in public settings and maintained social distancing, we’d be operating in a low-risk/extremely-low-risk/non-exposure environment. The spread of COVID-19 would be limited, and cases would drop drastically. 


Yes, something as simple as a temporary piece of cloth over our mouths and noses would put us in an entirely different situation from the one we’re now in. 


If we want to slow the spread of COVID-19, return to some sense of normalcy, prevent another lockdown, and keep businesses up and running, it’s time to push every argument aside. 


It’s time to mask up. 


Myth: Wearing a mask is about protecting yourself.


This is partially true, but the reality is that wearing a mask has always been about everyone around you, not yourself. Wearing a mask protects other people from the potential that you’re carrying the virus. 


By wearing a mask, you’re preventing the immunocompromised, the elderly, the vulnerable and their family members or caretakers from being exposed to the virus. We have a responsibility to look out for the needs of our neighbors. 


Maybe you personally won’t be severely affected by the virus if you catch it. I’m a healthy 22-year-old who rarely gets sick. I certainly won’t be severely affected by it. I likely wouldn’t even show symptoms. But I’m concerned about the very real possibility that I could pass the virus onto someone who could be severely affected by it, like, for example, my own grandmother or asthmatic mother.


It’s not about you. It’s about everyone around you.


Myth: Wearing a mask is a violation of your freedom.


You may believe that you have a right to not wear a mask, but other people have a right to not be unknowingly exposed to a highly-contagious and potentially-dangerous virus. They shouldn’t have to “just stay home” and avoid basic necessities like grocery shopping so that people can continue to walk around without a mask because it’s “uncomfortable.”


A person’s right to protect their loved ones from exposure to COVID-19 outweighs your temporary discomfort. A person’s right to not end up on a ventilator outweighs your large, close-quartered, maskless party. It outweighs your maskless trip to a packed bar. 


Nobody complains about the requirement to wear seat belts, even though they’re not comfortable, and the chance of getting into a dangerous car crash is probably low. Why are masks any different?


Nobody argues the necessity of airport screening because, despite its inconvenience, we all know it’s keeping ourselves and every other passenger safe. Again, why are masks any different? 


Myth: Masks are a sign that we’re letting fear control us.


On the contrary, masks are a sign that we’re letting rationality prevail. It’s a sign that we’re listening to science and accepting a small sacrifice for the greater good of society. 


Masks are a symbol of selflessness. They’re a way of showing that you’re willing to put the health and safety of others in front of your own desires. That sounds pretty fearless to me.


We won’t need masks forever. The longer we let COVID-19 persist, though, the longer it’s going to take for that day to come. Until then, don’t live in fear. Wear a mask, and live in rationality.


America is a country that values sacrifice highly, so why should we compromise that value in the face of COVID-19? Why aren’t we willing to make our own sacrifices to protect others? If we aren’t willing to do that, then do we really value sacrifice, or do we only value it when it doesn’t apply to us?


Other countries have slowed the spread of COVID-19 with protective measures like masks and social distancing, in addition to temporary lockdowns and contact tracing. Here’s how we compare to some of them:

(Source: https://ourworldindata.org/epi-curve-covid-19)


If these visuals don’t rattle you, then I don’t know what will. We’re on a completely different trajectory than other countries across the world, whose citizens were willing to do what was necessary to protect each other and bring back some sense of normalcy. Take New Zealand, for example, who has less than 1,200 confirmed cases and is seeing an increase of roughly one to three new cases a day. Oh, and they were able to safely bring back packed live sporting events last month, something that won’t be on the horizon for us any time soon at the rate we’re going.


If we believe we’re the greatest country on earth, do we really want to be the country that fails? 


It’s time to stop taking an inward-focused approach or a political approach to COVID-19 and start recognizing that we’re in this fight together. We’re never going to get this virus under control and get some sense of normalcy back in our lives until we learn to push our own feelings aside for the greater good.


Think of the characters in those TV shows. When did they ever defeat the antagonist by putting their own feelings over the needs of others? The answer is never.


They never said, “Oh well, the villain is going to destroy things anyway, so we might as well get used to it.” They never said, “But I don’t want to make this sacrifice to save the town. It’s too uncomfortable.” They never said, “Making this sacrifice is against my rights.” They pushed those feelings aside and did what they knew was right. Do we have the courage to do that, too?


Masks and social distancing are the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 so we can continue to function while simultaneously keeping people safe. 


There are no more excuses. Mask up. It’s the selfless thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.