To the Anti-Maskers, Mask-Mockers, and Mask-Shamers: Do it for the Matt’s

There’s been much discussion here on A News Cafe.com about masks and COVID-19, and our country’s polarization between the mask-wearers and the mask-deniers. Earlier this week one wise reader wondered in the comments section what tool we might use to help repair the polarization, to bring people back together to some middle, civilized common ground.

I thought about that a lot, and came up with what might work: couples’ counseling to mend our broken relationships. We’d need two couches; one for the mask-wearers, the other for the mask-deniers.

Sitting between them would be the likable, wise and kindly facilitator, someone like Dr. Douglas Craig. Or the Pope. Or Oprah or Ellen. Oh dear God, why did you take Mr. Rogers so soon? We need him now more than ever.

Anyway, the facilitator would let each side air their concerns and gripes; all the hurt feelings, fears, frustrations and anger.

If all went well, the mask-wearers and mask-deniers would hear one another, and acknowledge that we’re mostly good people at heart, and we’d stipulate our common ground: that we are terrified of slipping into another Great Depression, that we’re tired of being cooped up, that we’re heartsick about not seeing people we care about, and we’re profoundly disappointed to miss so many meaningful celebrations and events.

That’s about as far as I could take this mental exercise before my thought-bubble burst, because I couldn’t fathom where we’d go beyond our common ground. The chasm between these two groups grows deeper, darker and wider by the hour, to the point where Leonard Moty, Shasta County Board of Supervisor, and former RPD chief addressed it during yesterday’s BOS meeting. He talked about instances of bullying and intimidation by anti-maskers, and he couldn’t understand why anyone would care if someone else wore a mask. He hoped that here in Shasta County, that behavior would stop. I agree.

What’s especially distressing for me is the fact that some people I love and adore are mask-deniers, which leaves us standing in a black-and-white area where there’s zero compromise on this issue: You agree to wear a mask, or you refuse to wear a mask. Not much gray there.

Already here in Shasta County, anti-masker employees who work for pro-mask companies have implemented loopholes, such as technically “wearing” a mask at work, only it’s pulled down beneath the chin. Or anti-masker customers may initially comply and wear a mask into a pro-mask store that requires one for entrance, but then the anti-mask customers will promptly remove the masks once they’re inside the store. And then brag about it on Facebook, to the delight of their fellow anti-maskers.

Here’s something I’ve noticed, to my great distress, here in the Wild West north state: Some of the worst offenders at implementing masks are locally owned businesses, while some of the most compliant businesses are large corporate companies. This is a vexing conundrum, because on the one hand, my heart wants to support local businesses to help them and our local economy, but on the other hand, my policy is that  I will not support businesses that ignore public health guidelines. That leaves the option of mail-order purchases, which means the money doesn’t stay here locally. I hate that, but I feel I have no other choice. If the non-compliant local businesses don’t care enough about our north state people to keep customers and employees safe, then I will stop being their loyal customer.

For me – a mask-wearer – it comes down to this: Wearing a mask is another way of saying I love you, or I care about you, even if I don’t know you. Wearing a mask is another way of admitting that although I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I’ll err on the side of caution, and wear a mask until I know for sure  that we’re safely out of the woods.

Because the absence of a mask has become a rallying cry and statement in itself, maybe some compromise could be reached, such as if the mask-deniers had special masks that contained bold words of protest, for all to see, so there’d be no mistaking their beliefs, maybe something like, “I hate masks because they infringe upon my freedoms, but I wear one because I’m not a selfish jerk.”

Have you ever seen an infant sneeze or cough? It’s cute because they just let it fly. But at some point, children are taught to cover their coughs and sneezes, because it’s considered good manners to not spray people with snot and saliva. Granted, it would be so free and easy to let ‘er rip and sneeze like a baby. But for an adult, that would be seen as inconsiderate, even uncivilized. What’s civilized? The opposite of barbarity. What’s barbarity? Rude and crude.

So here we are in a pandemic, and the stakes are higher than just a common cold caught from a grocery-store sneeze. With COVID-19, we now know that potentially deadly virus particles don’t need the super high velocity of a sneeze, but rather, they can be spread through talking and even singing.

Simply put, wearing a mask is just another form of consideration for others, whether it’s to cover your mouth during a sneeze, or remove your shoes outside homes where that’s preferred, or use a condom to prevent pregnancy or STD’s, or keep kids home from school when their scalps are covered with nits and lice, or change your infant’s poopy diaper in a restroom changing station, rather than in the middle of a restaurant, or silence your cellphone during a movie.

That’s what civilized people do in a society; we look out for and care for each other, the very best we can, even if it’s not the most convenient for us, even if they’re strangers, not members of our family, church, BFF list or clan. And yes, we do so even if we don’t personally agree with that particular act of civility.  Me? I have never cottoned to the shoe-removal thing, but I happily, respectfully comply in homes where it’s appreciated.

For the record, I’d be 100 percent cool with people not wearing masks in public if they could guarantee just three things: First, if they knew with 100 percent certainty that they didn’t currently have the virus. Second, if they knew with 100 percent certainty that they will never infect someone with COVID-19. Third, if they knew with 100 percent certainty that they could never become infected with COVID-19.

The only person who could satisfy all three conditions with 100-percent certainty is a dead person, and they wouldn’t be alive to know anything anyway.

I’d nearly given up beating the drum for masks recently, because so much has been said about it already, and I didn’t think there was anything new under the sun I could say to change anyone’s mind.

It’s kind of sad, because the more we mask-wearers feel as if we are in the minority (that appears true here in Shasta County), the less we’ll go out, because we believe it’s too risky to expose ourselves to so many mask-deniers. Yes, I know, the mask-deniers will think this is funny as heck, and say it’s fine with them if we stay home.

This week, however, I changed my mind about not saying something about masks after I heard about my twin’s experience, which she shared on Facebook.

I’ll let Shelly have the last word in this column today, because there is truly nothing more I could possibly add to what Shelly’s already said, especially since I know the heartache it caused her to venture mentally to one particularly painful place she’d rather not go, but she did it in hopes it might change even one anti-masker mind.

And if Shelly’s words can’t convince mask-deniers to reconsider their stance and wear a mask, then I don’t know what would.

From left: Jeff, Matt and Shelly Shively.

“You! Wearing a mask, you chicken-commie-liberal!”

This was yelled at me yesterday, from a non-mask wearing punk as we walked past each other through Rite Aid parking lot. Clutching his skateboard and 2-liter Mountain Dew, he didn’t even have the guts to look me in the eyes.

The cowardice, hostility, and sheer ignorance of this verbal attack shook me.

I’m stunned by those who insist that being asked to wear a mask to protect others (and myself) from a highly contagious virus is somehow linked to a violation of constitutional and “God-given rights”.
I’m ashamed of people I know who brag about their civil disobedience in removing masks, or flagrantly not wearing a mask when it’s posted as a requirement.

It’s simple: masks protect.

Would this punk call me a “chicken-commie-liberal” for wearing masks and gloves every day of my 20-year career in dentistry? How about when we all wore masks after the Carr Fire, to protect our lungs from smoke and ash? All of Shasta County, “chicken-commie-liberals”?

I’m a beekeeper, I suppose I’m a “chicken-commie-liberal” in wearing protective hood & veil, and asking visitors to do the same, for their protection.

Finally, I flash upon the 10 months of wearing masks while my youngest son, with leukemia, was fighting for his life. No one visiting Matt was offended by being asked to wear a mask to help shield from germs that were harmless to them, but potentially fatal for my son. No one complained of violation of their rights, or offered the option that we should all not wear masks, and take the risk of Matt being taken out by a common cold, no matter, since he would probably die anyway-sooner or later.

How this mask issue has turned America into a roiling civil war is beyond my comprehension. It’s just a mask, people, not a political statement.

If you don’t have a loved one to visualize, do it for the Matt’s, and other immune-challenged people who would not survive this virus.

Please wear masks when in public, and show the simple act of compassion and humanity.

If Matt had survived leukemia, I know he’d wear a mask.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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