Wearing masks should not be a question

Posted 3/10/21

Last week, members of the clergy were authorized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of “Group 3 Frontline Essential Workers.” With a spring in my step, I entered the UNC-Chapel Hill Friday …

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Wearing masks should not be a question

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Last week, members of the clergy were authorized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of “Group 3 Frontline Essential Workers.” With a spring in my step, I entered the UNC-Chapel Hill Friday Center wearing a facemask and a Carolina baseball cap. I was so excited that I momentarily blanked when asked for my birthdate.

“Sweetie,” the nurse smiled, “it’s not a trick question.”

As she readied the needle, she complimented my choice of baseball cap. She told me that, though she had attended East Carolina University, she had married a Tar Heel. I started to say that I had likewise “married up” when, suddenly, my shot was over! It was painless.

As she put an adhesive bandage on my shoulder, the nurse instructed me to keep practicing the three W’s to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread: wash my hands, wait six feet apart, and — most importantly — wear a mask.

I lamented that day’s news that both Texas and Mississippi had lifted their mask mandates.

The nurse shook her head. “I don’t get it. Why spend a whole year building a house and burn it down at the very end?”

After a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are signs that the end is in sight. There are three safe, effective vaccines. As was true with my experience in Chapel Hill, there are countless dedicated workers and volunteers getting these shots into people’s arms.

Now is the time to be vaccinated as soon as we are able.

While waiting for everyone to have the opportunity to receive this miracle of modern medicine, we must do everything we can to prevent the spread of infection. The science is clear: facemasks do exactly that.

Yet, there are now 15 states without mask mandates. Why are they willing to risk fanning the COVID-19 flames right when the fire finally seems to be under control?

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, justified his decision: “The governor’s office is getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do.” I realize that’s a talking point for his political party. There is a time and place for competition in the political area as opposing ideologies duke it out in the court of public opinion.

But public health is neither a game nor a partisan issue.

Mask mandates do not represent an overreach of government authority; they are not a violation of individual rights. They are a responsibility to the larger public.

I would remind Reeves of the words found on the side of most police cars: “Serve and Protect.” Mask mandates serve the best interests of the larger community by helping create herd immunity. Masks also protect individuals from this deadly virus.

The mask mandate has been extended in the Tar Heel State until at least March 26 by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Similar extensions have also been made by Republican governors in West Virginia, Utah, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and Massachusetts.

In the deeply red state of Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey extended the mask mandate until April 9. Governor Mee-Maw, as the 76-year-old politician is known, told her constituents, “I’m just trying to urge you to use the common sense the good Lord gave each of us to be smart and considerate of others.”

While I know the nurse who administered my vaccine shared my college basketball preference, I do not know her religious or political affiliation. But I feel confident that she would join me in responding to Ivey with a hearty “amen.”

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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