The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I’m not so sure on masks. But here’s why I wear one.

President Trump holds his face mask as he speaks during a covid-19 briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

HILLSBORO, Ohio — For the sizable portion of the population that still believes we are overreacting to covid-19, no amount of lecturing or shaming will change their minds. Not even President Trump’s incremental advocacy of mask-wearing will alter their deep-rooted suspicion, logical or not, that it’s all more politically motivated than science-based.

Accusations aside, people on one side of the debate are not more caring than those on the other. What’s important to understand and acknowledge is that those who believe in doing whatever is necessary to curtail the virus and those who believe that we need to get on with our daily lives are each basing their opinions on the same publicly available information.

Although there is no evidence that British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli ever actually said it, Mark Twain is said to have credited him with observing, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a statistics tsunami. Two equally intelligent people presented with identical sets of covid-19 statistics can reach vastly different conclusions. To one, the numbers will demonstrate it’s a deadly disease worthy of draconian restrictions. To the other, the stats will reveal a manageable virus with a relatively low mortality rate.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Those who believe the virus must be fought with extreme measures will argue that everyone must be on the same page, by government edict if necessary, in order to bring the pathogen under control. That will never happen in the United States. On Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) became the latest governor to issue a statewide mask mandate. But, as in most states, there is virtually no enforcement mechanism. Sheriffs in various states have declared they are not going to be the “mask police,” and health departments are not equipped to fill that role.

And so, in essence, mask-wearing and other virus-fighting recommendations depend mostly on voluntary cooperation. We have reached the point on our collective covid-19 journey where our opinions about the virus and how we should respond are entrenched. Admittedly, I come down on the side of those who believe we have overreached. I understand that covid-19 is a serious health issue with sometimes deadly outcomes, but forging ahead while managing risk is what Americans have historically done.

But I also care about the peace of mind of my neighbors who hold different attitudes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.” Even directives meant to protect people, like social distancing, “can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety,” the CDC adds.

And that’s why, whether required or not, and no matter how distant I am from a covid-19 hot spot, I’ve been donning a mask when I walk into a busy store where most people are wearing one. Personally, given the haphazard ways I see most people wear and touch them — coupled with a suspicion that few are washing them very often — I wonder if they are ultimately as helpful as they are made out to be.

We are interested in hearing about how the struggle to reopen amid the pandemic is affecting people's lives. Please tell us yours.

On Tuesday, Trump said, “We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask.” Acknowledging the skeptics — the majority of whom are among his supporters — the president added, “Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact.”

Health experts say that impact amounts to measurably curtailing the coronavirus spread. But even if their impact amounts to as little as lessening someone’s anxieties, well, I want to contribute to that. Many of us have for years practiced other social courtesies and health guidelines such as giving people their space (now called “social distancing”) and washing our hands frequently to ward off colds and flu. It’s not hard to do those things.

As an American who cherishes our freedoms, I instinctively resist new government edicts. But important among our liberties is the freedom to be considerate, a principle that I and others who share my dismay about our current course can exercise by showing empathy even when we disagree, and voluntarily embracing some behavioral changes for a while if it contributes to a greater degree of harmony.

Of course, sometimes I’ll be gritting my teeth — but no one will know, thanks to the mask.

Read more:

Letters to the Editor: Why is it so hard for some people to wear masks?

Podcast | New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on U.S. covid-19 response: 'Most outrageous environment I’ve ever worked in'

Helaine Olen: The problem with pandemic education pods

Alexandra Petri: Trump at last debuted a new, more presidential tone. Then he opened his mouth.

The Post’s View: Republicans are out of time. Congress must approve more coronavirus spending now.

George Rutherford: How California went from coronavirus success story to disaster — and how it can regain control

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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