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Opinion and Editorial

Why risk it? Wear a face mask when stepping outside

Michael J. Spivey
Filed on July 3, 2020

When we don't take care of one another, and we let our community down, that attitude spreads like a mental virus.

Two decades ago, most restaurants in the US allowed cigarette smoking. If you ate in a smoky restaurant, you probably couldn't taste your food as well as you might like. If you worked in a smoky restaurant, you probably increased your chances of getting lung cancer. Over time, public action took place, especially by seeking health protections for restaurant workers. Now, most restaurants do not allow smoking. The majority of Americans are happy that we don't have smoking in restaurants and other public places now. 

One decade ago, medical professionals began suggesting that 'sitting is the new smoking'. Sitting for hours at a time does appear to be somewhat bad for you. But it won't murder you in a matter of days, the way Covid-19 can. We need to follow the lessons from other countries that have successfully brought their coronavirus infection rate down to low levels. The single most effective measure - among many that work best when combined - is simply wearing a face-covering when in public. We need to make wearing a mask when you're in a public place as common as not smoking in restaurants and shops. We need to treat not wearing a mask in public as "the new smoking."

Right now in the US, while Covid-19 is spreading rampantly, when you walk into a public place not wearing a mask, it is indeed a lot like smoking. You are endangering other people's lives. Would you walk into your local grocery store smoking a cigarette? Of course not. Then, during this pandemic, why would you walk in there without a mask? You genuinely could be infected with coronavirus right now and just not know it because you aren't feeling symptoms yet. Walking into a public place without a mask will spread that virus everywhere, infecting people you know and people you don't know, democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives, indiscriminately. This novel coronavirus is not treating this situation as political. And neither should you.

But some Americans are treating this situation as political. A recent study shows that counties with a large number of hyper-conservative news media viewers and listeners are exactly the counties that are refusing to take Covid-19 seriously. These are the counties where local governments are re-opening businesses too fully and too quickly. These are the counties where a large proportion of the population is refusing to wear face-coverings when they go to populated areas (irrespective of any state or local mandates). And these are the counties where the sheriffs openly refuse to enforce state mandates for reducing the spread.

Other nations have brought down their Covid-19 cases, but America's case count is already rising again. In April, the US imposed measures that flattened the curve but didn't yet bring the curve downward. Then, many local governments removed those measures and fully reopened businesses. That's like the proverbial man with an umbrella in a rainstorm who says to himself, "I'm not getting wet. What do I need this thing for?" So, he closes it up and then is shocked to find himself suddenly getting wet. 

When you refuse to wear a mask at work or at the grocery store, you are risking lives. 

When we don't take care of one another, and we let our community down, that attitude spreads like a mental virus. We need to cooperate. We can't be fighting amongst ourselves when we need to be fighting as one against a virus that is trying its damnedest to kill us. 

Michael J. Spivey is Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Merced. -Psychology Today 


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