If wearing seat belts is the law, why not wearing face masks?



Florida Community Covid Dashboard July 17, 2020

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so many other comments are opposed to face masks because they infringe on our liberty, or they are ineffective based on outdated or poorly sourced data, or for personal reasons.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.



  1. Rather easy to see if you’re my age (65), the entitled attitudes that have become normal in this country over the last few decades. Not at all enjoyable slowly watching our country go down the tubes. And of course our political arena has been on display all that time and more, showing us how to do it the wrong way. Hopefully the issues of racism, police aggression, severe polarization in politics and the nation in general, taking down of confederate statues, climate change and other things, are happening to awaken us to the severe position we have put ourselves at in our nation today, so we can decide it’s truly time to address these issues. I’m sure many folks think that the pandemic is a warning because we haven’t been doing what we should to stop these issues from continuing on and perhaps getting worse.

  2. Thank you for your article on face masks vs seat belts! My sentiments, exactly. Normally I don’t get involved in making political statements because I am the Founder of the Gifford Youth Orchestra and have to depend on contributions from people with various points of view. But regarding this decision and the impact it has on my 57 children in my orchestra, I have to speak up for their health and welfare. They should have been considered when making the decision to simply ask people to practice safety, especially where our children are concerned. We have insisted that people give up their right to pass a school bus when children are exiting. We give up our rights to sell drugs and alcohol to children. We give up our right to let our children drive our cars without permission from the State. What’s up with these people who did not vote to protect our children from the virus? I am extremely disappointed with the vote and with those who did not consider how their narrowly focused vision couldn’t remember how we give up our rights every time we get in the car and put on our seat belts. Or place our children in car seats. Or put out our cigarettes before we enter their holy chambers! We give up our rights to protect them from second hand smoke, but the couldn’t ask us to give up our rights to protect our children. In this age of Black Lives Matter, I am concerned about making Indian River County safer for my black and brown children with black and brown people dying disproportionately. I wish the Commissioners had thought about my young people needing someone to advocate for them as the make up of my youth enrichment program being primarily black and brown children, but also white. This is one time when ALL lives should have mattered to them. But, sadly, they missed the “ALL” as in ALL Children’s Lives Matter! They had a chance to make Indian River County safer for all my children, instead the made it safer for none. Shame on you! Shame, shame, shame on you!!!

  3. Local elections are imminent. I’d love a summary of which Commissionsers / candidates are NOT in favor of making masks mandatory. My vote will be greatly influenced by their actin or inaction.

  4. Rey Neville has added an agenda item to Tuesday’s Council meeting requesting a discussion on wearing face masks. He has attached for reference an ordinance of the City of Punta Gorda requiring face masks to be worn at all times in a building or space open to the Public. You can view the Agenda on the COVB website.

    Should you wish to comment to Council on this subject you may do so via the City’s web site or by e-mailing tbursick@covb.org requesting that she forward your e-mail to Council. All comments will be Public Record.

  5. Good question. I believe the only candidate so far to answer that question is Tim Zorc, who voted against mandatory masks at the last County Commission meeting. I also believe that question will be asked an answered before August 18 since it is on everyone’s mind.

  6. The County Commission received overwhelming support for face masks in emails and on their website, but people opposed to face masks were the clear majority at that meeting. People who support face masks need to show up at the meeting on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

  7. Thank you! I am thinking, if you do not have asthma or another related health condition, …. get over yourself and please think of others and wear a mask. It really is no big deal except it is a big deal because you are joining others in our fight to contain Covid-19.

  8. I also equate this to second hand smoke. Now days you are not allowed to smoke in restaurants and many places since it may harm others. Yes, when first became law, many complained about their rights, but we all accept and understand it now. Fewer got ill per month then that do now from COVID, so couldn’t we all just try wearing a mask fir a few months just in case it will save even one life….
    It may even end the spread sooner so we can all get back to normal, instead of dragging this out indefinitely.

Comment - Please use your first and last name. Comments of up to 350 words are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s