Masks aren't the problem

Jeez, it is incredible to me how resistant people are to wearing masks in the county, state and country. I have heard people ridicule anything to do with wearing a mask more in the past month or so than any other time I can remember.

I have to say, its embarrassing as an American.

I have written a fair amount of columns telling of living overseas and lessons I took from exposing myself to different cultures. In any of those stories, I hope it comes across loud and clear how proud I was to be an American even if I was far from home.

I made every effort to be approachable from people of all countries and listen to their perceptions. If I didn’t agree, I tried to put forth my opinion in a polite, but firm, manner. I have represented American interests in more meetings than I can even begin to try and recount.

When I say I am embarrassed by masks being controversial in the United States, I say it as an American who loves this country and is proud of what it has contributed over the years to this world.

I first wore a mask in public as I went about my life in 2003 in Taichung, Taiwan. SARS had come to the island and it shut down life as the residents knew it. My American style restaurant took a hit, but not like a lot of small businesses that relied on locals. The Taiwanese took to heart the government’s recommendations of not going out, because people were dying. Westerners who were a huge component of my business were not as fearful as locals, so they came out in bigger numbers to restaurants and bars.

This is probably a good time to point out a few things about the Taiwanese government. The governing executive branch is called the Yuan and is made up of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators.

The KMT wants to work with China and has its origins back to the mainland when it was the party in power before the communists took over. It is the favored party for mainland China to work with. It is also reported to be one of the richest political parties in the world.

The DPP, basically, is the party that advocates independence. The island has not been ruled by mainland China since 1949 and never by the communists. In fact, China only had control for about four years because, prior to 1945, the island was a part of Japan. The DPP believes there are no true ties to China and its government, than China is to Singapore.

These two parties have some real fights. I mean real fights where fisticuffs are used. I’ve seen it on TV. Crazy. These lawmakers get into it. They punch and wrestle each other to the floor.

These politicians are totally polarized and they don’t agree on much.

When SARS came out, there was zero controversy on what the rules were to stop the spread of this disease and what freedoms they might infringe on. Protocols were put in place for the health of the country.

That included masks being worn everywhere when it came to indoor settings. At my restaurant, the cooks and bartenders had to be in masks at all times along with servers. Even outside buildings, it was advised to wear masks. Since pollution was bad, plenty of people used masks on a regular basis anyway.

It is here, I better make mention scooters and motorcycles are about 50 percent of the traffic population in Taiwan. Motor bikes are just so much easier to get around given the traffic and limited parking. At a major intersection there can easily be close to 500 motorbikes spewing out their exhaust as a person waits for a light to change. Here in Carbon County, or even Wyoming, we can’t even fathom this scene.

Wearing a mask indoors was a pain, I admit, but it never occurred to me that it was something to rebel against. Actually I hated wearing a mask indoors and even have a picture of me in a mask that said **** SARS, but I understood wearing one helped keep the epidemic at bay. It disappeared about eight months later.

Maybe because I hated wearing the mask inside my restaurant during SARS, I didn’t often wear a mask while driving on my bike, but on hot summer days when I knew I would be at a monster intersection, I did. It just seemed smart, especially since I could see the grime on the masks when I got home.

Also I worked in the two largest hospitals in Taichung, where doctors and nurses encouraged me to wear a mask on bad days of pollution. They even supplied them to me. Why would I say no?

Taiwan was not the only place I got used to masks being in every day life.

In 2013, I was living in the city of Beijing. I was there in January and February to oversee the sales force we had selling liquor in the city. It was a cool job that had me meeting operators of the best Western hotels, restaurants and bars, but it meant I was traveling around the city.

Taxis were cheap but ridiculous to try and hail during certain times of the day, so I found myself using the Beijing subway quite often.

The air in Beijing was about the worst I have ever been exposed to. Couple it with crippling viruses that were constantly around in winter and when I got on the subway, often as not, I had a mask on. Again it just made sense as I rode this packed-with-humanity type of transportation. If you have ever seen a film clip of a policeman packing people in to make sure the door shuts, I am here to say it is a common occurrence. These full subways had people coughing all the time around me. Was it flu or pollution? Didn’t matter, a mask seemed like a good precaution.

I guess it is why I can’t believe people are making wearing a mask a political statement.

It is just a mask and it works from my experience.

Taiwan has had seven deaths due to COVID. Seven!!!! Less than 500 people have gotten it on the island and it has been over 200 days since any new cases. The island never shut down schools, restaurants or theaters. Everyone wears a mask and the KMT and DDP have never made mention of the protocols infringing on residents’ rights.

What is embarrassing to me are people are refusing to wear masks because they say wearing masks don’t work and it is infringing on their rights to choose. Masks do work from my past personal experience and most places in the world are adhering to the policy of mask wearing to stem the pandemic.

Why does the United States have this resistance? You got me.

No doubt there are people that can’t wear them for health reasons. I work with such a person. But advances are being made there with different masks being developed for people that can’t wear conventional masks.

It really hit home to me how embarrassing this whole ‘not wearing a mask situation’ was, when I started interviewing coaches and kids for winter sports.

Schools are being strict about mask wearing in the audiences and I have heard there are complaints from those who don’t want to.

These people are willing to destroy an already shaky situation for kids. There is no guarantee sports will get a full season this year, so why would any person endanger our kids’ chance to play this year because they don’t want to wear a mask.

One coach said, “If it means having no fans see the games, so be it, because it is about the kids.”

He is dead on. He is not the only coach to make similar statements.

I am not going to argue that there is a possibility masks don’t do much to prevent COVID but I know, from living in Asia, they don’t hurt.

To make educators and coaches at the door of sports events have to turn people away because they refuse to wear a mask is just embarrassing. If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t go. Simple.

Don’t make people who are trying to give kids a sports season be put in the position of having to refuse entry.

It isn’t about politics, it is about the kids.

Like everyone else, I look forward to when masks and social distancing isn’t needed but, until then, wearing a mask out in public is not the end of the world.

It is time to stop acting like it is.

In the words of Noah Rimmer, a senior at Saratoga High School, “If wearing a mask means I get to be in school with my friends and play sports, wearing a mask is just a bump in the road.”

It is not even a big bump, if you really think about it.


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