American Opinion: Coronavirus is back on the upswing and people are complaining about … masks?
Summary: Americans are being asked to endure some slight inconveniences for just a little while longer. Wear a mask. Don’t gather in crowds. Maintain social distancing. Is that so hard?
Even as deaths from COVID-19 decline nationwide, there’s been an upswing in cases in a number of states, including California, as more businesses reopen and more people go back to work. Nine states have hit new highs for daily or weekly infections reported, a sign that the first wave of the pandemic is still well underway.
Under other circumstances, this kind of increase might not be cause for alarm. The number of cases naturally rises as testing expands and picks up mild infections that might have otherwise gone undetected. Same with the reopening of closed businesses. There’s no way to avoid some additional spread of the virus with more people out and about in hair salons, bars, beaches and stores.
Nor can we keep the economy in a deep freeze until COVID-19 is vanquished, or else the financial toll of the pandemic will long outlast the disease. The trick is to keep hospitalizations and deaths low, and hospital capacity and the stockpile of medical supplies high, as California has done so far. That is difficult when people — too many, really — refuse to employ the simplest, easiest ways to keep transmission in check, such as wearing a face covering in public places and not congregating in large groups.
Some Americans have risen up against mask orders and the people who issued them, as if the mandates were some sort of tyranny rather than scientifically supported virus control measures. Some business are deliberately violating pandemic-related restrictions, and there’s a dismayingly steady stream of reports of people partying in Arizona, Texas, Florida and right here in Los Angeles without regard for social distancing. And to be honest, some people have simply grown tired of being cautious.
It’s as if people want to return to economically devastating shutdowns. Because that’s what will happen if these coronavirus flare-ups start filling hospitals with COVID-19 patients.
And if flouting the laws of the land and of science weren’t bad enough, there are the widespread attacks on health officials for telling the unpleasant truth about the coronavirus and taking steps to protect the public. For this they have been assailed, as a group and individually, as evil bureaucrats eager to strip away constitutional rights and destroy the economy. At least 27 health officials in 13 states have been forced out in the last two months either by pressure from elected officials, the stress of the job or threats and intimidation from angry constituents, according to a review by Kaiser Health News and The Associated Press.
One of them was Dr. Nichole Quick, the health officer for Orange County, who was verbally attacked by some residents who were outraged — outraged! — that their freedom to spew potentially deadly microbes could be curtailed by a single unelected bureaucrat. Quirk was harangued, threatened and doxxed by critics who argued that face coverings make it hard to see when you drive (maybe you shouldn’t wear them over your eyes?) and that they reduce oxygen intake to dangerous levels (there’s plenty of expert advice online on how to exercise safely with a mask on). Instead of supporting her, Orange County supervisors and the sheriff joined the dog pile. Ignorance won the day; the mask order was rescinded and replaced with a recommendation that will probably be widely ignored even as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise in the county.
Not wearing a face covering and ignoring social distancing protocols when shopping or gathering in places where there are people you don’t know isn’t expressing your liberty. It’s dangerous and disrespectful to older, immuno-compromised and lower-income Americans, all of whom are at higher risk of dying of COVID-19. Anecdotes, history and scientific studies provide convincing data that, when worn properly, masks impede transmission of all sorts of viruses. And recent studies show that covering the face in public is an effective way to control COVID-19 infections. Yet a poll this month found that only half of the participants regularly do cover their mouths and noses in public. Have Americans really become so soft and entitled that they can’t handle a little inconvenience to protect others in their community from sickness and death?
During World War II, the government called upon every American to make personal sacrifices for the good of the nation. Americans need to chip in for the greater good once again. But instead of being asked to sacrifice food, gasoline or their very lives, they are being asked to endure some slight inconveniences for just a little while longer. Wear a mask. Don’t gather in crowds. Maintain social distancing. Is that so hard?
This editorial is the opinion of Los Angeles Time's editorial board.