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Why folks who won't wear facemasks are jerks - (7/14/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Jill came into the pharmacy and asked the pharmacist whether she could pick up prescriptions for her Uncle Jeff. “Sure, you are on his pickup list,” the pharmacist replied. “Is Jeff not feeling well?” “No, he’s fine,” Jill replied. “In fact, he is standing outside the store.” “Won’t he come inside? It’s hot out there,” the pharmacist asked. Jill explained that her uncle saw the pharmacy door sign, which read, “Please wear a facemask while in the pharmacy.” “My uncle refuses to wear a mask,” Jill said. “He says it’s silly and just a political stunt. I think he’s being kind of a jerk about it.”

With 138,000 Americans dead and counting, this is some stunt. And things are not getting better. We have no dependable federal leadership to set up uniform guidelines to mitigate the virus. Thus, the country is left with the 56 governors of its states, territories, and federal district, to form a patchwork of disparate laws. Such disunity is vexing because it politicizes a pandemic and allows it to spread.

Case in point:  According to a June 2020 story in Forbes magazine, top Democratic officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, have called for Trump to issue a nationwide mask mandate as Covid-19 infections spike across the country. However, the president has downplayed the importance of face coverings, refusing to wear one himself. Red states tend to agree: masks are for fools. Blue states don’t agree. But alas, the virus has no political affiliation or geographical sense. Covid does not know where Kentucky begins and Tennessee ends. This virus, about which we know little, wafts its way across borders, through cities, and “above the fruited plain.”

Meanwhile, ICUs and morgues are filling to capacity. Bodies are being stacked and refrigerated. A few short months ago, we believed that the virus tended to favor only the elderly and infirm. Today, we now witness the death of infants, students, and otherwise healthy younger people. People in their 30s are experiencing strokes and heart attacks. Through them, researchers have learned that the virus is not only a respiratory disease that quickly suffocates a person. Instead, this clever bug also attaches to receptors in the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, stopping hearts and destroying minds.  

Jill said to the pharmacist, “I asked Uncle Jeff about being afraid of the virus. He said, 'Hell no, I got my guns.' I said, what do guns have to do with the virus? He said, 'To threaten anyone who comes to my door and makes me wear a mask. I was born free, and I intend to stay free! I am not afraid of a little virus.'" Some people are adamant about their right not to wear a facemask, declaring it an infringement on their civil liberties. Such people have literally killed retail workers who have attempted to enforce a mask-wearing request. People are suing businesses that require facemasks because it discriminates against them. It is as if these clods are saying, “I reserve my God-given right to infect others.” However, freedom is not free if people do not play by the rules. No one is saying to shoot someone at point-blank range if he or she defies the mask request. Simply, give that person a weary look and move away.

The mask protects you from me and me from you. We do not have much else in our therapeutic toolbox right now: a couple of drugs that may help the gravely ill, social isolation, hand washing, but no vaccine. As for guys who feel a facemask is an insult to their masculinity, one of the pharmacist's patients said, "My husband is big. He’s manly. As a football player, he used to hit people for a living. He wears a mask!” Putting on a mask is as easy as pulling on your underwear. Do it and forget it. Don’t be a jerk! 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.  

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