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Tyranny is a weighty word

meador

“No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

In my half century of life, we never batted an eye at those signs. Sure, they took a tiny slice of our freedom but we recognized there might be reasons for the requirement and we put our shoes and shirts on before we went in. Besides, even if we were unhappy about it, we knew the business displaying the sign was within its rights to ask us to wear those items.

But now a little scrap of cloth — or finely woven synthetic plastic fibers, as the case may be — is threatening to turn us all into savages. “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” Get used to it, folks.

But even with a contentious issue like COVID masking, both sides actually do have some significant points in common.

First, other than a handful of virtue-signaling leftist masochists, nearly everyone I know hates the masks. From liberal Democrats who religiously wear their masks to conservative Republicans who refuse to even touch them, pretty much all of us dislike the thought of wearing masks whenever we go out or meet other people. Do you hear that, anti-maskers? The people nagging you to wear masks also hate wearing them. Nobody likes the masks.

Second, as evidenced by daily CDC policy reversals, consistently mixed and confused messages from two White House administrations and multiple state-level policy hedges and reversals, all of us can agree that no one fully understands this COVID and its ultimate end-effect on the public. In other words, yes, the science evolves as we learn so we should expect changes in protocols. But it’s true we’ve also witnessed some significant confusion beyond the scope of evolving science in recent months. But the one thing nearly all the experts agree on is that we need to take precautions like wearing the hated masks.

Unfortunately, for the masks to be effective, we all need to wear them conscientiously and properly. This is crucial. When half the population refuses, this causes problems for everyone, anti-maskers included. In fact, no one should be surprised that almost all new COVID infections are — you guessed it! — being suffered by people who refuse to vaccinate and mask. If I was an anti-masker, this would worry me.

It should be noted that uncertainty and confusion about a microbiological threat to the public is not a reason to do nothing — nothing, as in refusing basic precautions. Since medical and research personnel do demonstrate abundant agreement that the COVID threat is real, ignoring their simple preventive steps is foolish. Those of us without doctoral-level credentials and scientific backgrounds must take them at their word, even if we have questions and doubts. This is basic common sense or erring on the side of caution. Plus, almost all of us have loved ones who are particularly vulnerable to COVID — surely even the most vehement anti-masker wouldn’t endanger them for political reasons?

I hear the masks referred to as tyranny all the time. Really? Isn’t that a huge overstatement? The United States has a long history of stepping up when the country faces a crisis, the public making notable sacrifices when they’re asked to by their government. Many of these sacrifices have been significantly more burdensome or restrictive than simply wearing a hanky on your face. In wartime, we submitted to our mail being read and censored by government agents — that’s a big deal. We rationed gasoline and food — we gave up a not-insignificant amount of liberty in what we ate and where we drove. We sealed up our houses so not a speck of light could be seen outside at night — indeed, in some communities, we even gave up smoking outside during dark hours. Most of these sacrifices were far more onerous than mask-wearing but the public did it with minimal grumbling, temporarily yielding their liberty, accepting such steps as necessary to help the nation in a time of crisis. Almost universally, the sacrifices were considered a patriotic duty.

Remember the 1970s? Americans were shocked when the country ran out of gas — well, not really “out” but when geopolitical events triggered a totally unforeseen national shortage. Fuel was rationed, in many jurisdictions by allowing drivers to purchase gas only on certain days. We griped but we did as we were asked. We gave up our freedom to buy gasoline whenever we wanted and we often sharply limited where we drove.

Next to these public sacrifices, the hyperbole of mask mandates as tyranny sounds shrilly hysterical. If the anti-masking language was applied to the restrictions on liberty we’ve faced at other times, those making such statements would be viewed as distinctly anti-American, somewhat subversive and probably a little weak.

Hospitalizations and new infections have surged across the state as the delta variant spreads among unvaccinated populations. As Oregon ramps up masking requirements, we should pay close attention to what the experts are saying, even if what they’re saying changes from day to day. Remember, the experts have postgraduate credentials and experience working in the fields of microbiology, virology and epidemiology — even if they don’t now have all the answers, they know a whole lot more about COVID than I do, than pretty much everyone I know. If we ignore them because they haven’t figured it all out, we do so at our peril. We do so at our vulnerable loved ones’ peril. For now, we need to heed their words. It’s not tyranny, it’s just basic common sense.

With the delta variant forging ahead, Oregon could hit nearly 1,200 new infections a day by mid-August, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Even if you believe OHA’s figures to be exaggerated, a significant surge in new cases should alarm anyone with compromised health or with loved ones at risk — this should include everyone.

I, too, was once immortal. I made choices on my feelings of the time — the euphoria of excellent health and a fit body had convinced me I would never suffer the misery of breaking down. Aging was for old people. Now, as a result of thousands of bad decisions, I am paying the price of my personal hubris. I know my days are limited and I don’t want COVID to further cut them short. As much as I hate precautions like masking, I am taking this thing deadly seriously. There might even be a little irony in my wearing a mask: I have a legitimate exemption not to wear one but I choose to do so anyway.

You realize you also have a choice, right? No, not that one — there’s another one, too. You can choose how you want to view a minor inconvenience like wearing a mask. You can choose to use words of hysteria like “tyranny” to describe medical advice that’s really basic common sense or you can choose to see the mask mandate as an annoying but necessary patriotic duty.

Tell me about tyranny when they confiscate your guns or force you to get sterilized or they take your house from you. But don’t use a weighty word like tyranny to describe a tiny strip of cloth smaller than a hanky.
 

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