Eighty five years ago Daddy bought a radio and a wind charger with money he earned working on one of President Roosevelt’s rural electrification projects. Fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, I listened to the adventures of a new hero, the Lone Ranger.
Here’s what my childhood imagination saw. The ranger rode a big white horse named Silver. He always had a mask around his eyes so no one would know who he was. A loyal American Indian named Tonto was always at his beck and call. Local residents cheered as the pair rode into a town controlled by outlaws. The ranger and his sidekick found, shot and killed the bad guys. Then my hero rode through town waving at the good people, motioned for Tonto to follow him, spured his horse and rode away shouting “Hi Yo Silver, Away.”
It never occurred to me (or my parents) that Lone Ranger’s identity was never known to citizens. The people he killed were not tried in a court of law. His loyal sidekick was essentially his slave — a native American he controlled and called by a Spanish name that meant fool. Apparently the townspeople appreciated that unknown who gunman killed the outlaws and rode away.
They protected him because if the masked man was known, he might be tried for murder. A masked murderer who shared their views living among them was better than a peace officer hundreds of miles away. Many frontier folks didn’t trust the government, churches or businesses to protect people and their property in the new West.
In today’s world wearing a mask is not primarily to hide identity. It is usually used to prevent the user from breathing foreign matter that might make him sick or to prevent the wearer’s breath from contaminating food or produce. Masks are seldom important in solving crimes. Fingerprints, blood samples, and cigarette butts often contain enough DNA to tie a suspect to a crime or to provide a DNA trail for searchers for a lost child.
Today people are dying all over the world because they are infected by a previously unknown coronavirus, COVID-19. At the present there is no cure or preventive treatments. With the coming of the new coronavirus, wearing a mask and regular testing for COVID-19 are the recommended tools for understanding the disease and developing a cure.
To mask or not to mask, that is the question. The answer depends, not on safety of the mask wearer, but on the human beings’ willingness to wear a mask for someone other than self. Wearing a mask is not very effective in preventing the wearer from getting the dreaded coronavirus. But it is a very useful tool in protecting people in close association of the mask wearer and for developing a vaccine for controlling the disease.
Face masks are mandatory in parts of the world. Strict rules for wearing them have been enforced in northern Europe. Czech law enforcers issued a warning late last spring after officers received complaints about maskless naturists basking in warm weather. The Czech law says “Citizens are allowed to be without clothes … but they still must cover their mouths, and only gather in appropriate numbers.” As summer weather arrived, other countries allowed mask wearers to participate wearing their traditional clothing or nothing at all.
As summer beaches filled, police in most countries were asked to remind people that while it might be legal to go naked in public places, mouths needed to be covered. Nude beaches are rare in our United States. But summer gatherings at rodeos, family reunions and patriotic celebrations bring Americans together in dangerous situations. COVID-19 infections increase and the dreaded virus finds a home in young and old alike who attend traditional, crowded summer gatherings.
The annual Cache County Fair and Rodeo has been one of my favorite summer gatherings for the many decades I have lived in this valley. It has been special for locals and one of the highlights for much of Utah. For reasons I cannot imagine, county officials have, this year, decided to let the rodeo and fair be a potential killer of our citizens. With great sorrow and regret, I have decided I must not attend, and I don’t think most other old folks should either.
In a little over a week, thousands of people going to the annual county rodeo and fair will gather about a half mile from my house. The rodeo will be a special, unexpected place for old COVID-19 to strut his stuff. Even with the fair’s attempt to spread the crowd, it will be dangerous to well meaning, good people.
One of the backers of the event had the audacity to say we should encourage people to the attend the rodeo to cover the expenses. That probably wont be necessary. The rodeo will probably be sold out every night. Masks will not be required, but a free mask should be given to each ticket holder. A mask wearer in America indicates he is someone considerate of people he comes in contact with. Refusal to wear a mask is a mark of selfishness.
If you go to the fair, please wear a mask — especially when you talk. Not only will the mask protect you, it will help reduce spread of COVID-19 to those maskless folks around you who are playing Russian roulette and betting they will not get the dreaded disease.