State and local government are grappling with the question of whether to require or not require that masks be worn in public by everyone (unless it is medically unsafe to do so). After six months of this virus, it is no longer debatable if wearing a mask reduces the spread of COVID-19. Science has clearly demonstrated that it does reduce the transmission of the disease.

In Japan, where masks are universally accepted as normal to prevent disease, the COVID-19 death rate is 7.8 out of every 1 million people. Compare that to the United States, with 390.7 COVID-19 deaths out of every million people (Source: BBC and The New York Times). Our death rate is more than 50 times higher than Japan’s. Obviously, Japan is doing something right and the U.S. is doing something wrong. The difference is masking. It prevents the spread of disease, and COVID-19 is highly infectious, so the stakes are high. Whatever we can do to reduce the death rate, starting with reducing the rate of the spread of infections, is critical to stopping the damage, both to the economy and to the lives of individuals in this country of ours.

I realize that because they feel fine, many people think that the risks associated with contracting COVID-19 are overblown. For them, it is not a big deal so they do not mask. These people do not realize that they may, in fact, be carriers of the disease without even knowing it. They can, and they do, infect others without intending to. Masks are particularly important for these asymptomatic carriers, but because they are not sick, they can unwittingly spread the disease to other people. If you have not been tested, you should wear a mask in pubic to protect others. It’s that simple.  

I have heard all of the excuses why masks should not be required and should, instead, be a matter of choice. Unfortunately, when given the choice, too many people will refuse to mask up, citing their rights not to be told what they must wear in public places. I guess they do not realize that you cannot enter a restaurant naked. Just try that; you will politely be told that naked people are not allowed in the restaurant because clothes are, indeed required to be worn. As anyone who drives knows, you are also required to wear a seat belt in your car.  The whine that being required to wear a mask violates your rights is childish, trivial and incorrect. There is no federal law or constitutional right that allows anyone to subject others to the threat of disease simply because they are a cry baby who doesn’t like to be told what to do or not do.

To those folks, I say grow up, think about others instead of yourselves and don the mask. You will survive to complain another day, but you may also save a life. Because we are not prepared to test everyone every two weeks to see who is infected, the next best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask in public, even if social distancing is observed. This is absolutely not hard to do, for most of us. It is simply being considerate and kind to others, at no great cost to anyone.

Ghert Abbott in his op-ed piece in the Ketchikan Daily News may have hit the nail on the head when he said he believes that the refusal to wear a mask is due to the fear of dealing with the disease, resulting in a state of denial in those individuals who object to being told to wear a mask. Denial is a powerful emotion which has long prevented people from admitting the truth about many unpleasant realities. If this is the case, like most cases of denial, it is best to just buck up and do the hard thing. In this case, it is also the right thing.

Mask up. Make a tiny sacrifice. Think about others instead of yourself. Face reality. Save a life. Stop this pandemic.

Mary Lynne Dahl is a local business woman, financial planner and published author. She has lived in the borough for 23 years with her husband, Jim Dahl and their various boxer dogs.