The deep and complicated divide over mask mandates that is playing out all over the country was on full display in Washington Wednesday night.
After comments from 45 citizens, passionate debate, which some felt devolved into bullying, Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy broke a 4-4 council tie to defeat a proposed mask mandate for the city of Washington.
The council later approved a resolution urging citizens to better adhere to CDC guidelines in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The vote was a clear victory for the anti-maskers who were successful in thwarting a similar effort in Union earlier this summer. In the end, their arguments persuaded Lucy to side with them and kill what they say is clear government overreach and an unnecessary infringement on their liberty.
Give the anti-maskers credit, they were organized and vocal. There is no doubt that they reflect the feelings of many local residents, even though many of the anti-maskers present Wednesday evening weren’t from Washington.
They also have some valid arguments, including that a mandate would be difficult to enforce. They aren’t wrong when they point out that the virus isn’t as prevalent here as it is in neighboring counties — we aren’t dealing with a full-blown crisis yet.
Nevertheless, new cases continue to be documented in Washington and throughout Franklin County, and people continue to die due to complications from the virus. The county reported its 20th COVID-19 death this week.
Which is why it is hard to understand the deeply entrenched and curiously conspiratorial views of many of the anti-maskers who spoke in and outside the council meeting Wednesday evening.
Some, not all, hold the view that while the coronavirus is not a hoax, it’s not nearly as serious as many are portraying it to be and express doubts about the growing scientific knowledge about the virus.
The physicians who spoke Wednesday evening made the case that masks are one of the most effective tools to help fight the pandemic. It is the same view held by the overwhelming majority of public health experts. Yet it’s clear many anti-maskers believe face coverings don’t work.
Other anti-maskers acknowledge the effectiveness of masks, they just don’t want government telling them to wear one. This was the sentiment expressed by the majority of anti-maskers at the meeting.
But oddly, you don’t see the same passion from these folks on requirements for wearing shoes and shirts in stores and restaurants. Or over the issue of lighting up a cigarette any place you choose or wearing a seat belt in a car or over requirements that infants ride in child seats.
There are no protests when the county sends inspectors into restaurants to check for health and safety violations or when the city council sets lower speed limits on roads. The list of government intrusions is endless when it comes to public safety — just ask any business owner who has to comply with OSHA safety requirements.
Perhaps the same group of folks who oppose wearing masks don’t protest these rules because they’ve grown accustomed to them. Maybe it’s because they accept them as commonsense rules to prevent unnecessary injuries or deaths.
The debate over wearing a mask or having governments mandate them has become intensely political. That was painfully evident Wednesday. So political, that perhaps we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture, which should be doing everything we can to keep our kids and grandparents safe.
Even if not the perfect solution, masks do some good. That is why we should wear them in public when we can’t social distance. They can help us beat this pandemic and get back to normalcy. Isn’t that the goal?
Remember, we are all in this together.