Here a Mask, There a Mask
I went into the store today. The gentleman posted at the door politely asked if he could offer me a mask. Reluctantly I said yes. Two employees thanked me profusely, as he carefully handed me a mask. Frankly the entire episode made me sad on a number of levels. Mostly, the reality of their profuse thanks struck me as painful. I know it resulted from interactions that are far less pleasant than this one. There are those who will pitch fits, berate the poor fellow offering the mask, demand a manager, and assert their “right” to do as they please. Or excoriate the store for caving to the pressure of the state.
While I despise the fact that I put a mask on today, I am grateful that the encounter offered a moment of respite, a moment of grace, and moment of thanks for the employees of the store. It’s not their fault. Not the mandate to wear masks, not the store policy to comply, and not my aversion. None of that is their fault. It also brought me back to a question a friend asked me a week or two ago. I’ve been wrestling with it. Why don’t I wear a mask?
As I walked through the store today, I noted that within moments I was finding it hard to breath. My anxiety level was ratcheting up. All I wanted to do was get out of the store as quickly as possible so I could take that piece of cloth off my face. I could claim that is a result of mild claustrophobia, but that was unlikely to be the reason for that strong reaction that I get every time I put on a mask in this time and space.
Reality check, in the winter I wear scarves when I am outdoors. If I am working with wood or doing something else likely to throw particles into the air I wear one of those hard white masks you get from the hardware store. If I am sick and go into the doctor’s office, or must be around other people, I even willingly put on one of those disposable surgical masks. In none of those circumstances does my heart rate elevate, my blood pressure rise, my breathing get short and a sense of being near tears overwhelm me. So, the answer to why I don’t wear a mask isn’t a physical problem, even though it definitely produces a physical reaction.
It’s a Lie
When my friend asked my why I don’t wear a mask, I found I didn’t have a ready answer. My husband will tell you I am not a fan of talking points. I want to know what the person I’m talking to thinks, not what someone else told them to think. So, claiming a violation of my rights wasn’t an option, and also isn’t true. Stubbornness? Was I simply being prideful? What was behind the vague uneasiness in my mind associated with universal masking? As a Christian, shouldn’t I be willing to be inconvenienced to protect others? Shouldn’t I be willing to comply with authorities … My reaction today finally illuminated my problem with masks. It is a reaction I recognize. It’s the same problem I have with calling a man she, or calling abortion good, or calling the Portland riots a peaceful protest. This is my body’s reaction to lies.
How Do I Lie to You, Let Me Count the Ways
1) Mask up! Save Lives
- States and hospital groups across the country have spent what I am sure amounts to millions on trying to motivate people to wear masks over the last couple of months. Prior to that, similar language and imagery was used to motivate people to stay home. It went from “Stay safe, stay home, save lives” to “Mask up! Save lives.” “Wear it Proudly” plastered on billboards next to a man or woman wearing a mask. Or “Heroes Wear Masks” to try to encourage people to wear masks. Pretty people, celebrities, nurses or people who play one on TV, politicians, all coming out to tell you you can be a hero, it’s easy. Just put this thing over your face … Except I know what heroes look like. They run into burning buildings. They stand in front of violent criminals to protect people. They hold the line on the battlefield. They go on missions far away from home on lonely shores to stand against evil and uphold the good. Not only is it a lie to equate staying home or wearing a mask with being a hero, that lie diminishes all those genuine heroes in our world, heroes we desperately need right now.
- Propaganda blitz aside, saving lives would still be a legitimate reason to wear a mask. But, much like the stay home, save lives mantra it’s also not true. There is mounting evidence that the stay at home orders around the world didn’t necessarily reduce infection or death tolls, it simply (as it was originally claimed it would) spread the infections out to reduce excessive deaths due to medical shortages. We can look to Sweden for an up and down example of this.. There was no complete lock down there, and it seemed they had a high initial death toll, but as numbers have spiked and dropped around the world again over time, the deaths per million population for Sweden sit just below that of Italy, one of the first to go into lock down due to the seriousness of the outbreak. While the evidence of reducing death from lock down is mixed, the evidence that the lock downs themselves created excessive deaths in other ways is mounting.
2) Mask up, The Science Doesn’t Lie …
- Still, isn’t wearing a mask different than lock down? Science says masks save lives, right? Well, not so much. Similarly to the hype around the lock downs, there have been a slew of publications claiming that there is definitive proof that wearing a mask will stop the spread of the virus. However, a close reading reveals some startling realities.
- On May 21 the following appeared as part of an article in the New England Journal of Medicine:
We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.
- The authors subsequently attempted to walk back these comments in a letter saying they had been advocating for more masking in this piece, which is true as far as it goes. They did advocate for increased mask use in hospital settings. There is evidence of its effectiveness there. They cited several papers in their follow-up letter trying to reduce the impact of their original statement. However, they did not retract the statement they had made. Most of the works they cited simply reiterated their initial statement on the minimal chance of catching COVID from short, passing encounters in public spaces. One evaluated the efficacy of surgical masks in symptomatic cases, which has little bearing on universal masking of non-symptomatic people, and one from China looked at mask wearing in the home to reduce spread in families, which also has little bearing on the current conversation regarding public masking.
- Moreover, the CDC guidelines recommending masking do not assert it saves lives or reduces the spread. It very specifically, and very clearly states that it “could” reduce the spread of COVID. Again, one study it cites is in a hospital setting. The other study is of two symptomatic people as sources of the virus in an enclosed setting without a control group (simple case study). Looking at most of the reporting on this topic, you see the same words over and over. Might, may, could. There is no claim outside headlines that the evidence conclusively states cloth face coverings in a community setting stops the spread of the virus. (There are some pretty spectacular visuals of people sneezing, coughing, loud talking, etc. on camera and following spittle and such, which many base their assertions of efficacy on. While that makes for great propaganda it does not present clear evidence that masks do anything to stop the transmission of this virus given the particle size of the virus and other factors).
- The WHO only recently updated its guidance to even consider masking for healthy people in the general public, and even now states that there is little evidence of its efficacy and cautions against several negative considerations, including increased chances of infection due to contamination and a false sense of security.
- I can’t help but reach the conclusion that the science is far from settled.
3) Mask up, We Can Beat the Virus
This is perhaps the most grievous and dangerous of lies. It leaves us in the position where politicians are using this as a bludgeon to hammer one another. Politics has interfered with the options for treatment. Government exerts control and invasion at alarming rates implementing:
- contact tracing
- medical questioning
- talk of enforced vaccination
- banning of treatment shown effective in clinical usage
- silencing alternative view points
- banning worship
- closing businesses
We’ve allowed it because they tell us with enough unity we can eliminate a virus. If that were true, there would be no such thing as a cold and flu season.
Please hear me, I did not just say COVID-19 is just the flu, though there is ample evidence that it is possibly less contagious than the yearly flu. What I said was that if we were capable of defeating this type of virus there would not be flu epidemics every year that claim hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. If we were capable of defeating this kind of virus millions of people would not pass colds around for months. In other words, if we were capable of defeating this kind of a virus we would already have done so. The fact that these kinds of viruses still exist and infect and kill people every year even with vaccines demonstrates that for all our science, and all our hubris, we cannot defeat this virus.
This lie leaves the nation in the position of Don Quioxte tilting at windmills to try to escape the reality of death and the world. We elevate ourselves to the level of God and demand solutions of science it isn’t capable of producing. In doing so, we run the risk of the unintended, or perhaps intended by some, consequence of trading our liberty for the illusions of control. Rather than rely on being an informed populace, making the best decisions individually, resting on reasoned risk assessments with the best available evidence and trusting the rest to God, we find ourselves increasingly faced with demands to use the power of government to force compliance not based on hard science but on assuaging people’s fears (as noted in the quote above) or giving people a sense of virtue in the face of something they can’t control. We signal our willingness to force our fellow man to sacrifice his right to worship, his right to assemble, his right to speak, his right to privacy, his right to a secure election and any other right we are told is necessary on the altar of the virtue of fighting the virus and calming those fears. The trouble is the virtue, and the assuaging, is a lie.
We don’t have control of this virus, and we won’t. It’s a virus. People are going to die, it’s part of living. That doesn’t mean don’t be responsible. If I am going into the doctor’s office, I still wear a mask, without qualm and without that lie reaction. If I am feeling sick, I stay home. Whether I’m feeling sick or not, I wash my hands pretty regularly. I keep my fingers out of my mouth, and don’t touch stuff. I keep my distance in the line, give way to folks going the other direction, and am mindful. Just like I am any other time it’s germ season. But, I don’t think I’m going to wear a mask voluntarily. I am going to make one for the times when I don’t have a choice, which I think will likely increase. It will say boldly “The Mask is a Lie.”