Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of commentaries attempting to find a way we can fight as a community the ever-growing menace of this coronavirus. Your comments are welcome.
As of today, there are now 1,500 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus and 24 deaths in Indian River County. What can we do to protect us from becoming the latest statistic in an ever-growing threat from COVID-19 coronavirus?
So many Facebook comments agree with the science proven by Asian and European nations that face masks and social distancing are the best ways to protect us, and so many other comments are opposed to face masks because they infringe on our liberty, or they are ineffective based on outdated or poorly sourced data, or for personal reasons. This commentary will not change that, even though an explanation for the divergence of feelings exists and we could build on it if we wanted. So, let’s give it a try.
Yesterday we posted a Facebook page entitled “Mask Wearing Establishments in IRC” (click here), which publishes a spreadsheet of local businesses that require customers to wear face masks. For those of us who want to ensure our safety by shopping in businesses where everyone complies with the science, then look for businesses outlined in white (no color). The spreadsheet also lists businesses that do not require face masks at all (red outline), so people opposed to them can shop there.
For those who fear masks impinge on their constitutional rights, why wouldn’t the same logic apply to seat belts. Sure, you can decide not to wear seat belts, but in most of the country, if you are stopped by police you are ticketed. Seat belt laws are meant to protect you and your family. Statistics have proven that seat belts save lives. But what if people felt seat belts impinged on their constitutional rights? Well, before it became law, many more fatal accidents occurred because people were not wearing seat belts. Laws were passed to require it because seat belts were the difference between life and death. There was no national movement opposing this law.
Today we have a disease that has killed ten times more people so far this year than a full year of traffic accidents. We don’t have a cure for it, but the only proven way of lowering the rate of infection is to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Yes, masks can be uncomfortable. Seat belts are also uncomfortable, but we have become used to them. So why does this divisive argument about face masks even exist?
There are basically two reasons; one is that, unlike seat belts, face masks have become a political issue that flourishes in a vacuum of leadership. The other reason though is something called cognitive dissonance. That is just a fancy name for a human reaction caused when new facts are introduced that conflict with long held beliefs. For instance, when we first learned that smoking cigarettes is a leading cause of lung cancer, it took many years and indisputable facts before people changed their behavior. Remember when folks thought in spite of the warning written on their pack of cigarettes, they saw smoking as the best way to lose weight? A negative reaction to face masks also existed during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Some people used the same argument about infringing on personal freedom.
But I propose that one factor changed the thinking about seat belts, smoking and masks in the Spanish Flu pandemic – seeing someone close to you suffer and die. Right now, 140,000 people in this country have died from COVID-19. That is an extremely small percentage of our population. In our county, 24 have died. Most of us do not know someone who has suffered or died from it. Possibly the only way we will have everyone on board regarding face masks is if enough people contract it. Today the number is 1,500 and growing rapidly.