Coronavirus cases in Lewis County have doubled in the past two weeks, but I’m not surprised. Only a small percentage of people here have been wearing masks in public.
Why should they? President Donald Trump doesn’t. Neither does Lewis County Commissioner Bobby Jackson, who cited a medical issue and indicated others can do the same.
And after Governor Jay Inslee last week issued a statewide public mask mandate to slow the spread of COVID-19, Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza told a group of 300 people gathered to defend the Hamilton billboard “Don’t be a sheep.”
Snaza’s comment propelled Lewis County into national headlines. We even made the Washington Post after our chief law enforcement officer advised citizens to in effect break the law.
I don’t expect law enforcement officers to arrest or cite people with a misdemeanor for not wearing masks. They have plenty of felons to catch and crimes to solve.
Those opposing Inslee’s mask mandate insist it’s a violation of their rights. It takes away their choice.
But so does the seatbelt law and the motorcycle helmet law. So do speed limits.
They see the mask mandate as another example of the nanny state imposing laws that trample on personal freedoms.
However, with freedom comes responsibility.
Is it the government’s responsibility to protect the public health and safety? Yes.
Since early April the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone wear a mask in public to slow the spread of COVID-19. We wouldn’t need a mandate if people voluntarily wore masks.
But many won’t, despite repeated recommendations from the CDC, top epidemiologists, and finally last weekend, even the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
It’s fascinating to see the contortions people go through to prove the dangers of wearing masks. Facebook is filled with so-called experts — a doctor here, a nurse there — touting those dangers.
It’s not easy for some people to wear masks while exerting themselves. I found it especially difficult while climbing a hill during a walk with a friend. I stopped on the other side of the road and lifted the mask briefly to breathe better. Then I continued the uphill trudge.
But if it protects my friend from a virus I may not know I have, it’s worth it.
Could I refuse to wear the mask? Of course. I’d even qualify for a medical excuse as I was diagnosed 25 years ago with Samter’s Triad, also known as Aspirin-Exacerbated Respiratory Disease. The triad consists of asthma, aspirin allergy, and nasal polyps. I’ve undergone four sinus surgeries since 1995 to remove polyps that keep growing back. At times I find it tough to breathe.
But my temporary discomfort pales when compared with the possibility that I might inadvertently infect another person, someone who may visit a grandmother or grandfather, an elderly World War II, Korean or Vietnam veteran, a friend undergoing cancer treatment.
The shutdown of schools, businesses, churches and public venues earlier this year hurt so many — economically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s heartbreaking to see the spike of deaths locally in suicides and methamphetamine overdoses as people grapple with depression, despair and ongoing divisiveness over politics, race, and yes, masks.
Now Inslee has paused reopening in Washington, and as cases increase, without social distancing and mask wearing, we may see more restrictions imposed.
I realize the increase in positive COVID-19 cases locally represents only a tiny fraction of the county’s population. Three people have died in Lewis County, 1,311 in Washington, 125,000 in the United States, 500,000 worldwide.
How many people must die of coronavirus in this county before some people consider it consequential enough to wear masks, which have proven to be an effective deterrent in spreading the disease?
I believe in protecting lives — black, brown, white, elderly, children, young adults, unborn babies — and wearing a mask is a simple way to do so.
The Pollyanna in me wishes everyone would just band together for the greater good to rein in the spread of coronavirus.
It could have happened under better leadership, especially in the White House.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org