Burton: Please, Just Wear a Mask


(Photo by J. Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Logan Burton, Opinion Writer


 As Utah and other states transition out of economic shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Utahns are coming closer to a sense of normalcy. After months of social distancing and closures of many companies, reopening shows the hope of progress amidst the pandemic. But it also comes with obvious risks. With more people out in public, cases are expected to rise as they have recently throughout the West and South. Still, going back to the full shutdowns of March and April — as Texas and California are doing — would come with risks too. Quarantine fatigue is real, as we know from experience. Luckily, there are preventative measures each of us can apply to avoid returning to shutdowns here in Utah. Though not a cure-all, face masks have proven their effectiveness in reducing the spread of the virus — but only if people actually wear them. In the face of record-breaking case counts, Utahns should think of others and take mask-wearing more seriously.

People have worn face masks for medical reasons for over a century — most notably and recently face masks have been used during the SARS and Ebola epidemics during the early 2000s and 2010s. Closer to home, we see doctors, nurses and other medical professionals wearing these masks all the time. Though messaging regarding wearing masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus was initially mixed, more and more governments and organizations are recommending it, and evidence supports that move. The more people wear masks, the less the virus spreads. Fortunately, masks are also relatively cheap, with a variety of options available. Companies from Walmart and Amazon to sustainable clothing brands all sell face masks — you can find countless sellers with a simple Google search. For those who can’t afford masks, some governments — including Utah’s — are distributing them free of charge. And you can always make your own mask if it’s still challenging to get ahold of one.

Despite the ease of both acquiring a mask and wearing one, Utahns don’t seem to be taking this expert guideline seriously. I’ve seen a disappointing number of people not wearing masks in public — in stores, at tourist locations like the state capital and on city streets — even after the mask mandate in Salt Lake County. In fact, a recent survey by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics found that 42% of Utahns are already comfortable going out without a mask. When asked about if they would wear a mask for people who are nervous around those without a mask, 35% said no. While some people do take mask-wearing seriously, a dangerous number still do not.

Is it easy to wear a mask? For the vast majority of people, the answer is yes. Although inconvenient, wearing masks can become a routine as thoughtless as grabbing the car keys to go to work. So why have so many people in the US and in Utah demonstrated a lack of commitment to this prevention strategy and even protested it? According to David Abrams, a social and behavioral science professor at the New York University School of Global Public Health, those who refuse to wear masks do so for a sense of “solidarity and bravado.” Others feel mask mandates infringe on their rights. This behavior is selfish, not to mention counterproductive. Wearing a mask is a matter of courtesy and respect for others. Governments and businesses have innocuously requested wearing a piece of cloth to protect the publics’ and employees’ health. Beyond exceptions like breathing difficulties and — in extreme cases — unaffordability, there are no legitimate reasons for most people not to wear masks.

As Utah faces a sharp uptick in cases and a potential second shutdown, wearing a mask has become more and more normal — and has been proven to work in reducing the spread of COVID-19. So out of courtesy to those around you, please, just wear a mask.


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