The great divider: To mask or not?

Donnie Douglas Contributing columnist

So this is where we have devolved?

The latest split in America is whether or not a person should wear a mask when out and about in public as a way to defeat COVID-19, which continues to terrorize beyond its capacity to kill.

We see it every day, played out on social media, with the mask-wearing warriors declaring themselves the enlightened ones, the more compassionate of the bunch, and that their decision to wear a mask is an act of humanity, designed to protect you, not them. And if only you would wear a mask as well, this pandemic would be over more quickly and we could get back to shopping, eating out, and enjoying our favorite sporting events.

Then there are the rebels, those who refuse to wear a mask because, by golly, this is ‘Merica, the land of the free, and no one is going to tell them to wear a mask at Wal-Mart. They don’t trust the government on this virus, and their skepticism is well-grounded on what is impossible to deny: Pretty much everything we have been told about COVID-19 has been wrong.

No one is going to make these folks wear a mask — although Gov. Roy Cooper may try. As this was being written, Cooper was kicking around the idea of requiring masks in public. Wake County already has.

So pretty soon it might be North Carolina law that a mask is required when a person is out in public. Should that happen, then it is easy to envision a nation where people are arrested for not wearing a mask, but arson, vandalism and theft provoke not much more than a shrug because the hands of law enforcement are tied by leaders who are cowardly when courage is needed.

My cat, Boots, tells me I should wear a mask not only in public, but in private, arguing it’s my best look. I do so sparingly, not because I am defiant. It is because I limit my travel, and rarely find myself where I am putting others at risk. As for my own health, I have found it remarkably easy to get through the day without a close-talker conversation during which I am spat upon. When I am in a crowd, I treat everyone as if they have not showered for weeks — and make rounded turns to keep my distance.

But the real problem with masks is everyone isn’t going to wear them, which should be apparent by now. You can’t tell someone that a mask is critical to more quickly ending this pandemic while also giving a wink to thousands of people who are in the streets in full throat, screaming for a more just nation in the treatment of young black men. Rarely is hypocrisy in more full bloom.

I am no expert of COVID-19, which makes me — and this is the problem — as much an expert as most. I don’t believe there is a misinformation campaign orchestrated by the Deep State as a way to divide and conquer this nation; instead, this virus is like none we have seen before, and what we were told about it early has mostly been wrong.

Back then we were told that it killed people at a rate of 3.4%. Now, even as the number of deaths climb, albeit more slowly, that number is likely to land on the happy side of 1%, my guess substantially. The deaths are almost all elderly and compromised people, so young healthy people don’t fear it.

We were told early on that masks would not be helpful, and even advised not to wear them. Now we are told they are critical.

Remember when the virus spread from surfaces, and you really needed to be careful around the gas pump, especially if you saw a license plate from New York? We were told to sanitize everything, and not to touch your eyes, ears or mouth. Well, turns out that the virus essentially spreads through the air, when you inhale someone else’s exhale.

We were also told to stay indoors, but all the major outbreaks occurred indoors, in nursing homes, meat-processing plants, cruise ships and prisons to name the most prominent. Now the advice is to get outside more, soak in the sun and its vitamin D, but to keep your distance.

I am all for anything that will quicken the return to some kind of normalcy. I got plans for this fall, and they include golf and Kenan Stadium.

My advice is to wear a mask when you might put others at risk, which is not really that big an ask. But I know many won’t.

The best thing anyone who fears this virus can do is protect themselves, and not depend on others to wear a mask. Depending on others to protect your health is what’s risky.