OPINION: The county mask debate demonstrates Americans are experts at politicizing health


Americans are experts at politicizing health. We do it with health insurance, Medicare and prescription drugs. We do it with just about every facet of mental health and psychology. We do it with sex, pregnancy and reproductive health. We did it with H.I.V./Aids. We did it with addiction and the War on Drugs. We did it with seatbelts. And about a century ago, we did it with a global pandemic. 

Cut to 2020 and 2021. We’re still doing it. The same tired arguments circulate, claiming that self-care, empathy and following evidence-based medical science are somehow in conflict with our rights and personal freedoms. That doing what is best for the many must come at the cost of the individual. That it hurts capitalism and business. That doing the intelligent thing treads on your freedom and individuality. 

It’s such a tired and foreseeable argument that I might find it amusing in another life on a higher plane. But our collective actions have real, devastating effects on our community — including on the almighty individual.

It’s not just old people who die from COVID.

In the last year, I’ve buried loved ones. Well, actually, I’ve only buried one. The others died and were minimized to a shared obituary and a few care emojis because you can’t gather to mourn and bury loved ones safely in a global pandemic. Before you shamelessly assume that they must have been “old,” please know I’ve known infants, people in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies who did not live to see 2021. 

It’s not just the elderly who die from this virus, and even if it was, even if every single death was someone over the age of 90 would that make their loss any less important? Just because they aren’t a part of the workforce does not make them meaningless, America.

I’ve also survived a pretty severe debacle with COVID-19 myself. I feel strongly that I contracted it in a room full of people who didn’t care about the greater good, who didn’t want to believe in COVID’s seriousness and ‘by golly, they were going to show us all it was a hoax.’ 

Who paid the price? I did. My family did. My students and teachers did. 

Rebuilding a life after something like COVID is no laughing matter. But you know what’s worse than that? The fact that I have to live without those friends and family who died this year. We all do. 

One death is too many

As of Sunday afternoon, there have been at least 303,710 cases and 4,891 deaths in Kansas since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Cases have decreased over the past two weeks but are still high. The current average daily rate of infection in Kansas is 212. 

The number of hospitalized Covid patients has also fallen in the Sedgwick County area, but I.C.U. occupancy is still very high. 

Deaths have decreased. That’s wonderful — that’s what we’re aiming for. But you know what’s better than the word “decreased”? The word “eradicated”. 

Until our I.C.U.s have stopped needing to admit people with COVID, until our medical professionals and medical examiners have stopped declaring people dead and our clergy and morticians have stopped planning their funerals, until we have zero new cases in this county I will wear a mask. Because even though I don’t see eye to eye with many of you and I know many of you don’t care about me, I am willing to be an adult and do what is best for the many and the individual. I am willing to make the enormous sacrifice of sticking a piece of cloth over my face so you don’t die. 

Even one preventable death is too many. We’ve lost sight of that this year.

Here’s where you insert an argument about percentages. Go ahead, I’ll wait. 

You’re going to tell me that the rate of COVID infection in our county is 2.53%. Or worse you’re going to cite some meme or YouTube video claiming that 0.00001% of people who get COVID die from it. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not (it’s not) because many Americans abandoned truth long ago. 

Who among you that cite this nonsense have studied data and spent real time analyzing health statistics? 

Now I don’t claim to be a medical expert. I’ll leave that to you but I have more experience than most with medical information. I’ve also spent the last nine months regularly analyzing and tracking COVID data for my work. And not from one website — from dozens of websites looking at every trend and factor. 

We’re not there yet, folks. It’s not over.

But you won’t be persuaded. It’s more important to you to walk into a restaurant or store with a bare face just so you can storm away screaming about liberty and freedom when they refuse you service for showing up unmasked then it is to actually examine your sources, your prejudices and to think about the greater good. 

The County Mask Mandate Must Remain

Call me a hippie, a snowflake, or whatever you want. I’ve heard it all before as a reporter and columnist. In my mind, if you’re walking around without a mask on in public you are intolerably selfish.

To every politician in Sedgwick County and beyond who’s voted to lift the mask mandate I just want to say in a clear and quiet voice: Shame on you. 

Stop trying to make career moves. Stop trying to fund your reelection campaign. For once this year, can you please just do the right thing? 

Keep the mask mandate in place until it’s safe — until our medical experts say it’s all clear.

You’re blowing up people’s lives. You’re politicizing a pandemic. Worst of all, you’re saying to those who died, “we learned nothing from your death” and to those who remain “we care nothing about your survival.”