Walter is a civil engineering junior and copy editor at The Shorthorn.

Some say the government should enforce mandatory mask-wearing, while others say being forced to wear a mask is the mark of a tyrannical and oppressive regime. I see things a little differently.

I see wearing masks the same way as I see covering your nose when you sneeze, not cutting in line and chewing with your mouth closed: it’s a matter of common courtesy and should be treated as such.

People will still contract the coronavirus, even if we all continue to wear masks. The past few months have shown this to be true. But what if we all look at wearing masks in a different light?

The point of wearing masks isn’t to stop people from catching COVID-19, it’s to slow the spread and buy scientists precious time to work on a vaccine.

Masks can help communities slow COVID-19’s spread when worn consistently and correctly by most people in public, along with social distancing, regular handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The people who complain about wearing masks are rightfully, if not excessively, skeptical about its effectiveness in preventing COVID-19, but that’s because it doesn’t prevent infection. It simply slows the spread, and that’s exactly what the United States and the world needs right now more than anything.

Over 594,000 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed throughout the world this week, with over 1.3 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

After so many countries bungled the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s reasonable to assume people would contract and possibly die from this disease. It’s tragic, but it is unreasonable to assume that the rest of us shouldn’t make a conscious effort to end the pandemic as soon as possible while at least working to reduce cases and deaths.

During World War II, Americans understood the importance and necessity of conserving precious metals and accepting women into the mainstream workforce for the war effort. During the Cold War, Americans learned of the dangers of mutually assured destruction, and it’s been understood in our foreign policy that we must avoid nuclear war at all costs.

So why is it still so hard for many Americans to understand that wearing a mask is simply a small but sincere act to end the pandemic sooner?

I don’t care how many times people make fun of the tired “wear a mask so you don’t kill grandmother” argument, wearing a mask is about more than protecting the elderly. It’s about protecting the millions of Americans that are part of many different at-risk populations.

Myself included.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 16, making me immunocompromised. Though I never received an official diagnosis, I likely have rheumatoid arthritis. Last year — only five days before I turned 22 — my left lung partially collapsed, and after five days in a hospital bed, I was told I had spontaneous pneumothorax.

As someone who is immunocompromised and has a lung condition, I will never ask my country to forget their pre-pandemic lives and live forever in a lockdown nightmare.

What I will ask of my country is to consider their neighbors, fellow Americans and loved ones and take steps to keep this pandemic from going endemic before a vaccine is ready.

I don’t want to take your old lives away and make you stay inside all day. I don’t like staying inside either. Even as an at-risk person, I’m not all that scared of dying by COVID-19.

But if wearing a mask in public can give us all just a semblance of our old lives back — going to buy groceries, watching movies at a theater or drive-in theater and sitting in a real college classroom with interactions between students and professors — then it stands to reason we should set aside the inconveniences of wearing a mask in public so we can reach a point where we no longer need them.

Other countries, especially ones where wearing masks has been a norm for many years, are seeing success overall in reducing COVID-19 cases and deaths by having citizens wear masks in public.

Japan — an infamously conservative nation where tradition and respect for rules and politeness are ingrained into society — is one of these countries.

While Japanese society accepted the use of masks for many years before the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1918 flu pandemic that society at large was persuaded of their importance and effectiveness at slowing the spread of a virus, according to The New York Times.

Wearing masks has been important to the Japanese ever since then. They quickly adopted wearing masks for the SARS and MERS outbreaks of the early 2000s and 2010s, and the COVID-19 outbreak was no different from the beginning.

No country will handle a pandemic perfectly, and Japan is no exception. But experts agree that of everything Japan did near the start of the pandemic, accepting the use of masks was critical to keeping the number of cases and deaths low.

“Japan, I think a lot of people agree, kind of did everything wrong, with poor social distancing, karaoke bars still open and public transit packed near the zone where the worst outbreaks were happening,” Jeremy Howard, a researcher at the University of San Francisco who has studied the use of masks, said of the country’s early response. “But the one thing that Japan did right was masks.”

It is OK for Americans to passively grumble about wearing masks. Just like how we all complain about bumper-to-bumper traffic, bad weather and our favorite sports teams losing a game. Every person on Earth has probably had these frustrations or spoken about them.

But the critical difference between complaining about bumper-to-bumper traffic and ignoring traffic in favor of highway anarchy is that people are hurt and die when we choose to ignore the systems we have in place to keep everyone safe.

I don’t want mandatory mask-wearing to become law. I hope Americans will come to their own conclusions and realize that wearing a mask is about being polite and considerate, not about being repressed and silenced.

Your grandmother and people like me shouldn’t be sacrificed for the good of our economy, but if we can accept wearing masks and practice effective social distancing measures, perhaps we can get our economy going strong again the way it was pre-pandemic.

COVID-19 won’t be going away anytime soon, even if we all start wearing masks and lock down our society again. But it will buy precious time for some of our world’s greatest minds to work on preparing a vaccine and give us all some hope.


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