To mask or not to mask, that is a question that divides our country and invades our quiet, peaceful valley. Other than a person being mentally ill or alone on a desert island, it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t know COVID-19 is killing people all over the world. At the present there is no preventive vaccination or medicine that cures the disease. Wearing a mask is encouraged.
The first mask I remember wearing, although it probably wasn’t my first, was 87 years ago when I was 4 years old. Mother made a small handkerchief from a flour sack and tied it around my neck to keep me from swallowing bugs that collected around my mouth. I was so proud of that handkerchief. It made me look like grown-up men who wore neckerchiefs over nose and mouth when they castrated calves, threshed wheat or sat in a dust cloud while riding a horse-drawn cultivator.
Handkerchief masks worn by robbers in early Western movies were not invented by them. Most country people my age, though there aren’t many of us left, wore a handkerchief around their neck and pulled it over their mouth and nose when wind carried bugs, dust or other things that would make them sick. That simple mask was also handy to wipe a runny nose.
As I write, experts and concerned folks all over the world are working on ways to calm COVID-19 and its offspring as quickly as possible, find a way to control the diseases and develop vaccines. Meanwhile, we can try to prevent its spread by isolating ourselves and keeping a distance of about six feet from another person. We are advised — and in some places like Logan, required by law — to wear a mask.
Simple, cloth or paper masks are inexpensive but only protect the person wearing them as little 10 to 15% of the time. People within about six feet of the wearer fare a little better — maybe 15-75% of the time they will not get the disease. Masks are not the answer to preventing the disease, but they provide a way to try to slow the virus.
Every time I leave the house or work outside since early May, I have worn cloth masks made by my son-in-law Fernando. Unlike other masks I have worn for the last 86 of the 91 years of my life, I do not wear Fernando’s masks to protect me. Nor do I wear a mask to aggravate the “you’ll have to put your damn mask over my dead body” folks. I have hoped, perhaps naively, that by wearing a mask I could help a few more folks survive until we get a treatment for COVID-19 and its spin-offs. I did not expect the negative reaction of so many Utahns.
I did not go to the Cache County Fair or Rodeo last week, but unintentionally I got a sample of what those people attending think about masks. Last Friday I walked to the river to check on some native plants that are in danger. The fairgrounds and rodeo arena are between my house and the river.
I was wearing my everyday stuff — faded blue denim pants, a work shirt and a Western cowman hat made from Mexican straw that I modified with an Aussie crease. On the way down I saw a few people taking care of their horses. I talked to a couple of folks and waved at others. All were friendly. No one mentioned I was wearing a mask.
The way back was a different story. I stood on the sidewalk south of the display building and considered going in. Several hundred people were working or looking at displays. The people at most of the booths wore masks, but I did not see any visitors young or old, male or female, wearing a mask. I saw no evidence of distancing. Young and old crowded together in masses. A COVID molecule could easily drift from one person to another.
As I stood trying to decide whether to go into the fairgrounds, a man fueled by hate yelled, “No f---ing masks allowed.” My hand tightened around my walking stick. I fought to keep from using my long-ago Army training to leave that yeller laying limp on the ground. Instead I pushed through the crowd and stood in the street trying to keep people from seeing me cry. Had I stood my ground, a 91-year-old American might have killed a stranger or been beaten to death himself.
Our beloved United States has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. Its people cannot agree on a simple tool, like wearing a mask. Every state — in some cases every little town — has its own set of rules. Most of these rules are based on desire or belief rather than on science or proven facts. If belief continues to trump facts the animals that control our planet will not be humans.