03 N2004P64024CLet me start by saying I really, really do not like wearing a mask.

It is more difficult to breathe. I get lipstick on the inside. It is hot and sticky, especially during the heat wave we have just experienced. I have trouble recognizing masked friends and neighbors. As Dr. Seuss said in “The Cat and the Hat,” “No, I do not like it! Not one little bit.” More than once, I have wondered how medical professionals, construction workers and others wear the darn things all day, every day.

Whining aside, I have a variety of masks — the first handmade by a dear friend, and others I have purchased. I keep masks in my pocketbook, in my car, in my waistband when I walk the new puppy by myself, and on my face if someone is walking with me. As uncomfortable as I find wearing them, I do so both for my own health and for the health of my family and close friends and the people I come into contact with but will never actually know. It is the very least I can do for my larger community during the worst pandemic in a century.

The New York Times reported last week on mask-wearing throughout our nation, complete with a map colored darker to show where masks are commonly worn and lighter where they are worn less often. As we might expect, the darker colors are in higher population areas along the east and west coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. The lightest concentrations are in our nation’s midsection with its vast plains and fewer people and in the South where several states have attempted — an apparently failed at — widespread re-openings.

Social scientists tell the Times that other factors beyond population density are at work. Elizabeth Dorrance, an assistant professor of communications at Michigan State University, says mask-wearing responds to peer pressure. If our family and friends regularly wear masks and value that behavior, we probably will as well, and vice versa. And while the goal is 100% masking, that is unrealistic. Harvard Medical School’s Julia Marcus notes that not everyone buckles a seatbelt, wears a bike helmet, gets vaccinated, has stopped smoking or practices safe sex — no matter what the law says or how often they hear admonitions.

All of that said, it will probably not surprise you to learn that political partisanship is the major predictor of masking or not masking. Generally speaking, more Democrats wear masks and cite protecting others as a reason, and more Republicans go barefaced, citing a right to individual decisions. Shana Gadarian of Syracuse University is blunt. “The big takeaway of all the data is partisanship is the big determinant of all the behavior. It is not age. It is not where you live.”

Really?

Tension between community wellbeing and individual rights has been with us since the birth of our nation. Our Founding Fathers argued — and never resolved — federalism versus states’ rights, and we struggle with those same issues today. I get that regarding political issues and am grateful that North Carolina and the other 49 make our own decisions about public education, voting issues and other important aspects of life in a democratic republic.

But when it comes to public health?

Viruses, including COVID-19, are neither Democrats or Republicans, nor do they care whether they infect members of one or both parties. Sick is sick and dead is dead, no matter what one’s party affliction. Various versions of this saying exist, and it often attributed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” It means that, yes, I am free to make my own decisions, but I am not free to hurt you or to infringe on your rights.

In other words, I am not free to spew my germs on you just because I do not like wearing a mask, and neither are you.

For the health of our nation, Democrats, Republicans and everyone else should just put on a darn mask and quit whining about it.

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