UNMASKING THE CHALLENGE

You probably saw or heard the news. America’s two highest officials spurned the guidelines they issued to reduce the spread of coronavirus. What message are they sending us?

Tuesday, Vice President Pence visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The clinic has a set policy: Everyone wears a mask. Mr. Pence didn’t. His excuse: He’s tested often and was negative the last time. The lasttime. Health care professionals remind us that someone who tested negative yesterday could be positive today.

Mr. Pence explained that he skipped the mask to look staffers in the eye and express his gratitude. Really? As someone who always wears a mask outside—made by Carolyn for me and dozens of family, friends, nurses and ambulance drivers—I can say it covers my nose and mouth, not my eyes. Also, masks don’t prevent you from being heard.

Here, the vice president aped his peerless leader. President Trump eschews his own guidelines because he seems to think masked meetings in the Oval Office don’t provide attractive photo ops. Their purpose? Not modeling behavior during the pandemic but pursuing politics. So he met with Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis barefaced as was everyone else in the room, and sitting less than six feet apart. The same situation held when Trump met with Democratic Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards.

The president and his fawning VP missed prime opportunities to shore up their chances at the polls this November—if Pence is on the ticket—by setting an example. Still, the foolish posing and disregard for science was hardly unexpected. Trump said on February 10, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” On February 26: “We’re [U.S. cases of COVID-19] going down, not up.” The president also theorized about shooting up on disinfectant.

As of May 1, U.S. coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, have passed one million. Deaths top 63,000. That’s 5,000 more than American troops killed in Vietnam.

Many states are relaxing shelter-in-place. Georgia got a head start, bowling and getting a tattoo being urgent matters. Let us pray. Eventually, COVID-19 cases will go down, testing ramp up. A vaccine will be developed. Researchers at Oxford University in Britain are bullish on theirs. Remdesivir might heal coronavirus patients faster. But how do we improve public health now?

California, New York and other states are planning phased introductions to normalcy but slowly, letting the data guide them. Being 75, I doubt I’ll be eating in a restaurant anytime soon. That’s okay. I fear for everyone else.

The key to America’s resurgence won’t be found in the White House. It will emerge from the American people making critical—and difficult—decisions. Will they follow updated guidelines, wearing masks and keeping social distance? Or will they succumb to shelter-in-place fatigue, reject science and claim a Constitutional right to risk their lives and those of others?

I walk three times a day. If I said that as many as 25 percent of people I see wear masks, I’d fog—maybe crack—the lenses of my rose-colored glasses. And this in San Francisco! Bluster and disregard for others may well spawn a second, possibly deadlier wave of COVID-19. Wishful thinking can’t mask that awful possibility.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

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6 Comments


  1. Claudia Long
    May 01, 2020

    David, as always, good post! And good health to you and yours. I am weaving some custom masks for myself because I am sure that as we slowly return I will be required to wear one while conducting mediations, and I think that ones that protect my clients, staff and community but still look nice with my outfits would be just perfect.
    But to your last paragraph: when you are out walking, it is not always necessary to wear a mask–especially if you won’t be near others. When we walk in our neighborhood we don’t see more than 3 or four other people in a mile, and they are at least 15 feet away. It is difficult to jog or run and wear a mask, and as an asthmatic I really can’t exercise even lightly in a mask. Many women report feeling panicked in a mask at first, that it feels like a hand over the mouth.
    On a city street, in the grocery store, it’s the rule and must be obeyed, but don’t despair of the walkers.
    And remember, this has only been a requirement for a couple of weeks. It seems like an eternity, but three weeks ago we were still being told that masks were not needed or useful. So while folks adapt, it’s rarely instant. Give the Bay Area time, it’s a precaution, it’s a good idea, but outside it’s not the same, by any means, as a refusal to wear one *in a hospital!!*
    Be well.


    • David
      May 01, 2020

      You are right, Claudia, that runners and cyclists shouldn’t wear masks. Too hard to breathe. In my neighborhood—busier than yours though still pretty quiet—I wear my mask over my mouth, pull it over my nose only as I get relatively near someone, then pull it down again. This accomplishes two goals: It protects the other person should I sneeze (though I am well) and signals that I care about the people I pass enough to cover my face should we get closer than anticipated. Some people have no concept of making space, which should be between two or more parties. At those times, I take a wide berth. As to wearing a mask inside, we all get that.


  2. Sandy Lipkowitz
    May 02, 2020

    I see lots of people out in the streets without masks. Seems more young people or those walking dogs.They also don’t bother to make a wide berth when they pass. I’ve seen 3 young women walking together not 6 feet apart and not with masks. I’ve heard doctors say runners and bikers should wear masks. The air coming at you from the speed can bring the droplets into your respiratory system if someone in front did sneeze. i think these people are those that feel the rules don’t apply to them. Unfortunately, their attitude could kill some other innocent person. We are all in this together. Time for the selfishness to stop.


    • David
      May 02, 2020

      In the army, Sandy, we used to refer to “the ten percent” who didn’t get it. The percentage disconnected from their neighbors during the pandemic seems to be larger than that.


  3. Zoe Harris
    May 02, 2020

    Hi David, Well said! I couldn’t believe Pence’s excuse for not wearing a mask. Oh how crazy things are but we must stay sane! Love, Zoe


    • David
      May 02, 2020

      The excuses, Zoe, do make you scratch your head. Even when you have a mask on.

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