EDITORIAL: Just put on a mask already

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Wearing a mask in public has been common in Asia for years. The leaders of Europe are rarely seen without them now. Fashion designers are including them in their fall collections.

So why is America so resistant to the simple face covering that can help stop the spread of the coronavirus?

The mayor of Stillwater, Oklahoma, issued a proclamation on Friday that customers at stores and restaurants had to wear a mask. Three hours later, after employees at some establishments had been threatened, the proclamation was changed to "encourage" the use of masks. In Flint, Michigan, a security guard was killed, allegedly by the family of someone he had stopped from going into a food store without a mask. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine rescinded an order that people wear a mask in stores, saying it was "a bridge too far."

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For some Americans, apparently, risking their health and the health of people around them is a matter of freedom.

“There’s such a strong culture of individualism that, even if it’s going to help protect them, people don’t want the government telling them what to do,” said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineering professor with experience in airborne transmission of viruses.

And who's out leading the pack? 

President Donald Trump participates in a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix, with Tony Stallings, vice president of Integrated Supply Chain at Honeywell, right and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump didn't wear a mask when visiting a mask-making facility in Phoenix on Tuesday. He doesn't wear one when doing briefings about the coronavirus, and neither do the people who are standing close to him in the White House briefing room.

“I don’t think that I’m going to be doing it," Trump said minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new protocol calling for masks to be worn in public last month.

Vice President Mike Pence even toured Minnesota's Mayo Clinic without a mask last week, in violation of the institution's policy calling for everyone on the campus to wear a mask at all times. 

An AP poll said that 79% of Democrats say they wear a mask when leaving their home, as opposed to 59% of Republicans, although 79% of those age 60 and older say they wear a mask.

It's no wonder that so many people protesting for businesses to reopen around the country are doing so without covering their faces. They say it's their right to do it and that they're only putting themselves at risk.

But they're wrong. The purpose of wearing a mask isn't to protect yourself. Only N95 masks, the ones that are in such short supply for hospitals, will keep the coronavirus from entering the nose or mouth of the person wearing it.

The purpose of a cloth mask is to protect other people. It stops you from spraying droplets around when you sneeze, cough or even talk, whether you're infected or not. And with so few people being tested and so many people carrying the virus without symptoms, none of us really know if we're infected. Wearing a mask keeps you from potentially exposing someone else you don't even know but who could die if they catch COVID-19.

Not that we expect Trump to understand the need to do something for the good of other people. Empathy is just not in his skill set. It never has been and it never will be. 

But the rest of us, those of us with elderly relatives, those who know someone who has gone through chemotherapy or has any of a multitude of diseases that attack the immune system, those who just realize that there are sometimes things that are more important than sticking it to the government, should know better.

Just put on a mask already.