Contra Costa County passed a sobering milestone last week with its 100th death from the coronavirus and 7,000 confirmed cases.

As the county and state continue to go back and forth in its kick-the-can approach to closing and reopening local economies and schools, there remain myriad things we don’t know about this once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic.

But there is plenty we do know. Social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks reduces the spread of the virus. Initially, it was the opinion of health care professionals that masks did little to quell the disease. Now, as with all things COVID-related, the mantra has changed, and medical experts believe masks are helpful and that everyone should wear one in public. We’ve even come to see our once-skeptical president make several appearances donning a mask.

Yet even with health officials and the president encouraging the practice, we are still seeing a mixed response when it comes to masking up.

What’s the big deal? Why are some individuals turning this into a referendum on the Constitution because the public is being advised — ok, more and more it’s being required — to wear face masks in public? Where is the harm unless you have a pre-existing condition that makes breathing difficult with a mask on, in which case common sense should prevail. Why is this such a difficult behavior to embrace?

The naysayers will argue that it’s the camel’s nose under the tent, a slippery slope, the beginning of the end of our freedoms, the repealing of gun laws and a violation of what the founding fathers intended.

But what about the public’s safety? The government has “required” things of the public on countless occasions. When seat belt laws came into being there was a hue and cry about rights. Turns out the law has saved millions of lives over the decades. When was the last time you heard about someone arguing that edict?

To those who say it is their right to not wear a mask, I would respond that they are correct. But what are you saying by not wearing a mask? The simple act of protest only promotes a sense of individualism and selfishness at a time when community togetherness is more important than ever.

People are being asked to wear masks in the hopes of keeping the virus at bay. No one is talking about taking away guns and freedom of speech or the right to assemble. Do we know that masks alone will end COVID? No, but we do know that it will help, and with 151,000-plus deaths nationwide, shouldn’t we be doing all we can? Or in the case of masks, the bare minimum?

Everyone agrees that getting the economy back on track is the goal, so let’s root for the economy and put on our masks. A productive economy means healthy workers, and if a mask is one step toward ensuring the health of our workers and the public at large … why wouldn’t we?

I’ll admit I am not the most stringent of mask wearers. I don’t wear one at home, I only mask up at work when there are other people in my immediate proximity, and I’ll be the first to say if I’m out for a walk alone, I often forget my face covering. But when I’m in a public place, I mask up. And I don’t feel that my rights are being impinged upon or that this action is the first step toward a tyrannical uprising or a Fascist government. What it is, is an act of kindness and respect. And if being a considerate human being is the most heinous label the naysayers can pin on me, I’m all in – and you should be too.

Ruth Roberts

Managing Editor