I’m writing in response to Professor Greg Gilbertson’s Aug. 4 letter to The Chronicle opposing mask mandates at Centralia College. Like Greg, I’ve been teaching at the college for many years (17 to his 20) and have come to know many students and their families in this community. I feel a duty of care to my students, as Greg does; we differ in that I see wearing a mask as part of that duty.
Greg encourages us to be “citizens, not subjects” and rejects mask mandates as “repressive.” But citizenship is a two-sided coin. One side is rights; the other is responsibilities. I have the right to go into a bar and drink alcohol to please myself; I have the responsibility not to leave the bar to drive home drunk because that would endanger others, and the law reinforces that responsibility.
I see mask mandates similarly. I am fully vaccinated, so if I go maskless, it’s highly unlikely (7%) that I would get seriously ill if I become infected. However, I could easily contract an asymptomatic case of the delta variant and infect others, some of whom can’t be vaccinated for health reasons. If, by wearing a mask, I can help prevent even one student, or that student’s immuno-compromised family member, or one of my co-workers from contracting a fatal or long-haul case of COVID-19, I am glad to do it. I’m thankful that only one of Greg’s students got the virus; in fact, though, quite a few students and college employees contracted COVID-19 over the past year. Buildings often had to be shut down for deep cleaning and colleagues had to quarantine.
When we focus solely on our freedoms without paying attention to how exercising those freedoms affects others, that behavior has a name: anarchy. We now face medical anarchy because so many refuse to be vaccinated. The Aug. 8 edition of The Chronicle reported that with COVID-19 cases doubling in the last week, hospitals are “very full.” That means that if I have a heart attack, there may not be a bed for me; if you’re in a car accident, there may not be a bed for you. Anarchy has consequences.
Let’s embrace the responsibilities of citizenship and help each other get through this pandemic.
Associate professor of English and humanities, Centralia College