The coronavirus situation is now in its fifth month, with hopeful signs — but certainly no end — on the horizon.
From the outset, we’ve received an unending list of suggestions, guidelines and outright mandates regarding how we should respond to the virus, the most contentious of which seems to be the required use of face coverings.
I’m going to digress for a moment: My own personal ax to grind in this pertains to guidelines regarding proper hand sanitation. Shelves were emptied of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in the first wave of panic buying that most famously included toilet paper. Hand soap vanished shortly thereafter. Sanitary wipes at store entrances disappeared and were not replaced, so shoppers had to carry their own if they wanted to wipe down their hands or their carts.
Yet we heard almost nothing from our government on this, I suspect because there was not a great deal that could be done about it. I can’t help wondering how many lives might have been saved had the government devoted the same energy to hand sanitation as it did — and continues to do — to other aspects of the pandemic, including the use of masks.
Face coverings have become the hottest of political footballs. In Pennsylvania, particularly, it has become just one aspect of the wider debate regarding Gov. Tom Wolf and his use of the emergency powers with which he invested himself.
Give the Wolf administration credit: Although Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the virus, it has not been hit nearly so hard as some neighboring states, and in that regard his measures have been a terrific success. Many people, rightly, fear that their lives and lives of their loved ones, are at stake, and support the steps Wolf has taken. They certainly support mask use.
At the same time, the economic devastation, particularly in the more rural areas where the virus was never prevalent, was much more widespread than it might have been.
It’s that, coupled with the governor’s autocratic manner throughout the situation, that has generated widespread pushback. Even a benevolent tyranny, after all, is still a tyranny.
For many, I suspect, the masks became a tangible symbol of people’s resentment of the shutdown and the way it was handled.
I vividly remember a Huntingdon auto dealer who, at a Blair County rally protesting the closures, made it a point to rip off his mask and fling it down. I’m sure his objection was not so much the mask as the restrictions it symbolized, restrictions that threatened his livelihood. So also for a salon owner who I interviewed who questioned why Walmart, packed with shoppers, could continue to sell hair products, but she was not permitted even to leave products on her porch for customers to pick up.
The governor’s decrees ignored a fundamental truth of human nature. Many people will bend over backwards to comply with a polite request, but resist strenuously when confronted with an order.
The president, with his frequent flip-flops on the issue, hasn’t helped.
The use of face coverings has visibly declined since the state’s businesses began to reopen, and Wolf’s renewed order early last month, and the threat to have police enforce it, has apparently, if anything, prompted more people to leave them at home.
That’s a tragedy, and it shouldn’t be that way.
We can disagree on Governor Wolf, President Trump, Dr. Fauci and all of the politicians, mandates and restrictions. But surely we can agree on the urgent need to protect one another from an unforgiving virus that may be with us for a very long time.
Many experts, most of whom do not have a political ax to grind, agree that the use of face coverings slows the spread of the virus.
Maybe, just maybe, its time to listen to them. Let the politics and the politicians be damned. Let’s take care of it ourselves. There’s too much at stake to do otherwise.