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Wear Masks for the Public Health and the Common Good

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Lost Nation Theater cast members practice with masks in 2021. Montpelier City Council recently lifted a city-wide indoor mask mandate. Photo by Tom McKone.
Discussion and debate about whether to wear or not wear a mask as a means to halt the spread of COVID-19 is traveling around Vermont like a wildfire, or, perhaps better said, like a virus.

The matter comes up frequently at the governor’s weekly press conferences. Select boards up and down the state, from Hardwick to Morristown, Stowe, Charlotte, Brattleboro, and Bennington are grappling with the issue.

The governor and many others say mandating masks in public spaces and indoors would be unenforceable, counterproductive, and divisive.

If a mask were required at a select board meeting, a city council, or even the governor’s press conferences, a person who refused to wear one would be disrupting the public meeting and could be asked to leave. If they refused, they could be removed. And that says nothing about common sense.

I’m sure many a parent has had arguments — dare I say divisive arguments — with their children about bedtime, eating the food on their plate, being home by a certain time, focusing on homework rather than a television show, and other matters.

Not everyone agrees seatbelts are needed. Not everyone believes vaccinating children for contagious diseases is a good idea. Not everyone believes it is wrong, and illegal, to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

At times, disagreement — dare I say divisiveness — saves lives.

Divisiveness is part of life. That’s not the issue.

The issue is public health and the common good. More than 812,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19 — that’s almost 30% more than Vermont’s entire population. Millions have been stricken by the virus, millions more around the world have been sickened and died. COVID-19 is contagious. COVID-19 is deadly.

The people of any town, the state, the nation, the world need to wear masks. The people need to get vaccinated and boosted. People need to take this virus seriously to stop serious illness and, yes, more death.

Curtailing COVID-19 is not a matter of “personal rights.” The adage that one person’s rights end where another person’s nose begins seems most appropriate in this time of need. According to the scientists and medical professionals, the COVID-19 virus passes easily between the eyes, mouth — and the nose — when inhaling and exhaling.

COVID-19 is a public health crisis and the public needs to act if the disease is to be controlled.

That’s not divisive. That’s reality.

Ross Connelly and his late wife Susan Jarzyna, owned and ran The Hardwick Gazette from 1986 to 2017. Connelly has served as president of both the New England and Vermont press associations. 

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