As health advisors and elected officials warn of a “disturbing surge” in coronavirus cases, we should also beware of another troubling trend — misguided and misdirected anger toward business owners and their employees attempting to comply with mask orders.
When the city of Galveston this week made businesses responsible for policing the mask order in their shops, offices, lobbies and dining rooms, some consumers decided to punish local merchants.
One downtown merchant reported being the recipient of this social media post from an “otherwise good customer.”
“So disappointed. Was planning to come by tomorrow for a new outfit. Just purchased online instead.”
Other island business owners and managers, even before the government mask mandate, reported hostile customer encounters as they, on their own, worked to do what they thought was best and right to protect employees and patrons from infection.
To understand how we got to this messy state takes some rewinding to the early days of the pandemic and a menagerie of conflicting messages.
Let’s start with Feb. 29, when U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams posted an exasperated message on Twitter:
“Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!
“They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Setting aside the understandable confusion and head-scratching that masks would help health care workers but not the average American, people heard the message loud and clear that masks aren’t effective. Mission accomplished.
This week, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci faced a question from Rep. David McKinley, R-West Virginia, about whether he regretted not advising people more forcefully to wear masks earlier in the pandemic.
“OK, we’re going to play that game,” Fauci said. McKinley said it was a yes-or-no question.
“There is more than a yes or no, by the tone of your question,” Fauci said. “I do not regret that. Let me explain to you what happened. At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our health care providers needed who put themselves daily in harm’s way of taking care of people who are ill.”
That wasn’t the message, however. The message was that masks don’t work, which apparently wasn’t true. The inescapable conclusion is health officials attempted to feed us all an expedient story and are now entangled in a web of their own spinning.
Americans don’t take well to paternal arrogance in which people in positions of authority attempt to tell us what they think we need to hear for our own good. The effort to protect frontline health care workers was a good and noble enough reason. The truth would have done just fine.
Had Adams and Fauci played it straight and told us the truth — masks are effective and can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but we need first to supply health care workers — we might not be in this mess.
And it’s a big partisan political mess that business operators, many of whom are still reeling from closures and worried about employees, are being forced to referee.
If politicians want Americans to take masks seriously, stop calling them “symbols” of communal responsibility and instead call them what they are — one part of a set of effective tools to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Several new studies published this month support wearing masks to curb the transmission of the novel coronavirus, according to The Washington Post. The broadest, a review funded by the World Health Organization and published in the journal Lancet, concluded that data from 172 observational studies indicate wearing face masks reduces the risk of coronavirus infection, according to The Washington Post.
Consumers shouldn’t direct their anger at businesses that are following mandates to protect their employees and others. They should reward them.
Although it’s understandable that some people are annoyed, skeptical and feeling manipulated, it’s time to get past that and mask up. Refusing to do so is not striking a blow for liberty; it’s an exercise in misanthropy.
• Laura Elder