Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Mask on / Mask off… And don’t use the term “defund the police”

It appears there are some in the community who wake up in the morning and change their sleep mask for their awake mask. I am not one of those. It appears there are some who feel not wearing a mask is a major political statement that displays their love for the U.S. Constitution and their “right to choose,” so they refuse to be caught with a mask. I am not one of those. Like most, I put the mask on when inside public places and take the mask off outside unless there is a huge gaggle of people surrounding me—which is extremely rare.

As with the Karate Kid’s wax on/wax off mantra—practicing mask on/mask off could have the long-term positive impact of accomplishing a goal, in this case keeping the county and its businesses more open than not.

Under the county’s new mask mandate, public health officials explained that wearing a mask in certain situations is a small part of the equation (along with diligent hygiene, hand washing and social distancing) that might slow down the spread of the coronavirus. It is a “might” and not a “for sure” because there is still so much we don’t know about this COVID-19. But if it might help keep local businesses operating and the county in a more relaxed COVID-19 response level, does it not make sense to wear a mask in those situations that could help prevent its spread?

It seems at the moment that the tsunami of COVID hit this valley hard in March and April and moved on. New cases are still being reported, but the numbers have regressed significantly without any mask mandate. It appears the virus is spread primarily indoors at big gatherings where exposure is prolonged. But is that the only way it spreads? No one yet knows all the tricks of this virus. That is the danger. When it does strike, this coronavirus can have huge debilitating impacts on our friends and neighbors and even kill people, as it has already here in the valley.

One thing I do know is that for the sake of mental health, the need to satisfy basic human desires and to support any economy, it is important to keep the county open as much as possible. Open is good. I like being able to be outside with people. I like sitting down to eat with friends. I like grabbing a beer and chatting with people.

If the mystery virus spikes back up and puts some of our at-risk community members back in danger, that openness could all go away. The extreme lockdown measures did the trick in stopping the virus that pounded our community at the end of the winter and is blamed for six deaths in this valley. It has been made clear the openness we enjoy today could go away if the trend turns. That is enough for me to be more conscious of putting on a mask under certain circumstances.

The mask is also a sign of support and respect for those who deal with a wide cross-section of the public in their jobs. Many people who do the essential work like fetch your packages at the post office and check you out at the grocery counter are contained within a closed space and encounter scores of people every day. Some could be spreaders and not even know it. Does providing a small level of comfort to those on the front lines not matter?

When it comes to enforcing the new order, no one should think there will be 100 percent compliance. Some will refuse to wear a mask to pay homage to their conservative ideology. Some will forget. Others will wear them inside but not in the fresh air. As Crested Butte’s chief marshal Mike Reily has stated many times, the idea of wearing a mask is meant as a show of respect for fellow citizens and humans. That is the right enforcement message to convey as this order rolls into place. The message shouldn’t be one of strong-arm tactics that quickly results in a ticket and fine for not measuring how far away you are from people while running from the car to the takeout window with or without a mask.

Given the fervor some people have over the mask mandate, the idea of using volunteers to educate those who are mask-free should probably be kept on the sidelines for now. Some have made clear they take the mask mandate as an affront to their basic civil rights so some hostility could be expected and a volunteer should not be in that position. The day after the mask order went into effect there were social media posts tagging some local officials as “Mask Nazis” and warning others that the Gestapo was watching them. Is that echo chamber hyperbole or a sincere fear of being attacked? Either way, it indicates a clash is possible. Volunteers would also be interacting with people not wearing masks who could be infected and that too puts them on an uncomfortable edge.

Gunnison County chief medical officer Dr. John Tarr said Monday that wearing a mask is a simple way to make a difference and he cited several scientific research papers to that end. If we want to keep the county and the local businesses as open as possible, every little bit might help.

Showing respect and providing some comfort to our friends and neighbors working essential jobs on the front lines? That’s not a bad thing. Taking a small action to potentially keep the county open and businesses owned by our friends and neighbors operating and hopefully busy? That’s a good thing. And both can be accomplished by doing a simple thing. Mask on/Mask off.

On another topic at the forefront right now: Demands to defund or dismantle local police departments are crazy. Leaders of the effort say that phrase is shorthand for reallocating some resources so less money is spent on police militarization and more on programs that address the inherent problems between people of color and some police departments. Then say that.

Using that “defunding” shorthand is a way to push away many of the people who are new allies in the effort to reform police practices that have resulted in the harassment and death of young black men. Don’t overreach with stupid slogans that throw a wedge between people who now understand the need for change and those that want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Use words that mean what is meant—“reallocating” or “reimagining” ways for police department to “realign” how they work within communities is a better goal than “defunding” the police. Demanding police departments be dismantled and defunded will only scare people to vote for those who claim from their bunker to be staunch law and order candidates—and that’s not what is needed right now.

—Mark Reaman

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