The headline back on June 12 was threatening: “A revolt against masks creates new risk,” warned one newspaper atop a wire service story about mass resistance in California to helping stave off the coronavirus pandemic by wearing masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces.
That story was prophetic: Just two weeks later, the state began piling up its highest numbers ever for COVID-19 cases and deaths. It was a simple case of cause and effect, separated by the virus’ approximate two-week incubation period.
Even renewed runs on funeral homes, hospital beds and space in intensive care units didn’t quell the revolt. In a parallel phenomenon, Louisiana, which refuses firmly to adopt masking rules, has the nation’s highest per-capita coronavirus rate, 70% above California’s.
It’s natural for people and even states to resist masking when the President of the United States first called the coronavirus a hoax and later said it would simply disappear. And then, still later, admitted he lied about it, claiming he did so to prevent panic. Meanwhile, he also precluded a quick national response.
This should surprise no one, when that same President has become a parody of the old parable about the boy who cried wolf. Donald Trump has cast himself as the man who cries “hoax” upon encountering anything he dislikes.
Because he’s the President, many Americans continue believing him, despite admitted lies and many others he doesn’t cop to.
It’s almost as if the anti-vaccination movement has taken over part of the national psyche and California’s.
There is strong evidence that the best ways to stave off new infections are wearing masks, washing hands often and keeping at least 6 feet away from people not sheltering with you.
But when county health officers impose masking rules, they meet resistance to the point of death threats. Intimidation caused the former health officer of Orange County, for one, to resign, believing she and her family were endangered. Even as deaths pile up, resisters contend masks don’t help, or that the disease itself is phony. Why shouldn’t they spout such claptrap when the President has done it?
These tactics ape what the anti-vaccination movement has done to opponents for years, including a street attack on the author of a state law tightening restrictions on inoculation exemptions for schoolchildren.
Anti-vaxxers now signal that whenever a COVID-19 vaccine appears, they will try to discourage the public from using it. Activists are already posting anti-COVID-19 vaccination messages on social media. Polls indicate about one-third of Americans won’t soon accept a vaccination.
It’s part of a “me first” philosophy putting public welfare behind personal convenience. Yes, the anti-vaxx movement consistently promotes disproven claims about vaccine side effects, and will surely do the same when a coronavirus preventive appears.
The essence of the movement is that any individual’s preference trumps the public interest. If it’s inconvenient for me to inoculate my child against smallpox and polio, this element says the child should be exempt. That amounts to child abuse, exposing youngsters to serious and deadly diseases. Activists also say “don’t tell me what to do.” Yet, the same folks stop for red lights, wear clothing and put up with other common infringements on absolute personal liberty.
Maybe it’s somehow a right for parents to expose their kids to diseases that could kill them or, with ailments like measles or mumps, impair them for life. But it’s patently absurd for parents to claim the right to expose other people’s children.
Similarly, it might be individuals’ right to expose themselves to COVID-19 by not wearing masks indoors, but when huge numbers of cases have been transmitted person-to-person by unknowing, undetected carriers, the rights of those who might be infected take precedence.
Meanwhile, the claim that the coronavirus plague is a hoax has not died since anti-vaxxers began shouting it last spring at rallies against shutdown orders. It’s been picked up by the many more folks who are reluctant to wear masks and by people who claim — without evidence — that masks prevent them from breathing well.
Masks may be inconvenient, but COVID-19 is no hoax. Just ask the 200,000 Americans dead from it.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].