Brian Mittge Commentary: Ahem... Cough, Cough... Let’s Mask Up

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Amid the controversy over the governor’s vaccine mandate for state workers and some private employees, let’s remember something important.

A vaccine mandate is very different than a mask mandate. It’s OK — in fact, it’s crucial — to know that you can strongly oppose the first but still honorably abide by the second with your freedoms intact.

Since those early weeks of the pandemic, when we realized that wearing masks can help prevent us from exhaling the tiny droplets that carry the virus to others, I’ve been a big supporter of wearing masks. That’s not to say that I enjoy wearing them, but I got used to it and I’m thankful that I can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 if I happen to be carrying it.

And so it’s broken my heart (and raised my ire) to see how a big section of our populace has settled into a firm anti-mask mentality.

I wear a mask not because of a government rule, but because of the Golden Rule. Wearing a mask is the right thing to do and helps keep other people healthy. The gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, tells me that what I do to the least of those around me, I do to Jesus himself. I would certainly do everything I could to avoid exhaling pandemic germs into the Messiah’s face, and I would do the same for you, because He tells me to.

With that said, a story I heard this week from a longtime and highly respected Twin Cities teacher was especially frustrating. She was willing to go public with her experience, but I’m going to withhold her name because feelings are running so high on this issue right now and some people aren’t behaving as charitably as they should. It disappoints me to my core to admit to myself that I can’t guarantee she wouldn’t face recriminations from some angry members of the public for sharing a pro-mask sentiment.

This woman recently entered a prominent Chehalis retailer, locally owned and beloved by many. I’m not naming the business, either, because what she experienced is sadly not outside the norm for many places in our community and nation. I’m not trying to point the finger at this firm, but instead at the treatment she experienced and that cold-hearted attitude it displays.

I’ll let her tell the story, as she emailed it to me on Wednesday:

“I am fully vaccinated and gladly wear a mask to protect others from the variants that apparently are alive and well in even vaccinated nostrils (as I understand from the CDC.) 

“Entering this business yesterday, wearing a mask, three employees were behind the counter in the front of the store, and none of them were wearing masks. 

“Not surprised (though dismayed in my heart), I proceeded to walk past the counter only to be mocked by a male employee who ‘pretend’ coughed 3-4 times in my direction without covering his mouth.”

Crushed by his actions, she vowed sadly to herself that this would be her last time in a store that she has always loved to support.

This woman continued, “Am I so awful as to warrant mocking me wearing a mask? ... I left defeated and horrifically sad ... Obviously, I am not welcome at this store if I wear a mask, required by our ruling bodies if I am indoors at a public place.”

Nobody likes being told what to do, but we also need to live by our responsibilities as we defend our rights.

An old legal precept says that my right to throw a punch ends at the tip of your nose.

In the same way, my right to exhale potential virus-laden vapors also ends at the tip of your nose. That’s the reason for mask mandates. They make sense. I protect you by wearing a mask, and you protect me by doing the same. To me, that’s what any good American would do. 

By all means, stand up for your rights, but please wear a mask when you do so.

Not because someone told you to, but because it’s the neighborly thing to do.

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Brian Mittge has written about our shared local life for The Chronicle since 2000. Contact him at brianmittge@hotmail.com.