By now, you know the drill: if you're going out to a public place, you should be wearing an assortment of personal protective items like a mask and gloves. You should be practicing social distancing and staying at least six feet away from the person next to you unless you live together. You should be doing this every single time you leave your home, not because you want to make a bold statement for or against the ongoing crisis, but because you know that, even though it feels bizarre, it's the best thing for public health.
Despite the best intentions of many Americans to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there are a select few who feel that protecting the health of themselves and those around them is an encroachment on their individual liberties. Enter those members of society who are engaging in mass protests against social distancing guidelines, harassing (and even killing) workers who enforce new health policies, or blatantly refusing to wear any kind of personal protective equipment in public.
Included in this (small but vocal) population of American hypocrites is our fearless leader, President Donald Trump, and many officials from his administration. Trump has been spotted mask-less on a tour of a mask-manufacturing site, at a meeting with top military executives, and while speaking with a group of World War II veterans. Vice President Pence went so far as to forgo a mask on a tour of the Mayo Clinic and to encourage a group of food industry CEOs to remove their masks before a meeting in Iowa.
In a crisis as dire as this one, you'd think that federal officials would be jumping on the opportunity to encourage Americans to protect public health. Like it or not, they're figureheads of this country, and their actions have a significant impact on how citizens perceive acceptable behavior in uncertain times. In refusing to wear any sort of protective equipment in public, they send a clear message to their (already pretty polarized) constituents that masks are optional. Further, they affiliate themselves with the group of Americans who feel that federal health guidelines are too restrictive and, rather than promoting public health, are nothing but a severe breach of personal liberties.
Masks have quickly become a symbol of compliance with federal regulation, and this alignment has done the devastating job of bringing politics into the world of public health. People who may have at first been indifferent to masks and PPE are watching some of their leaders go about business as usual, and it makes them question whether or not the crisis at hand is being blown out of proportion by the media. The resulting counterculture, composed of those who refuse to acknowledge the severity of the situation at hand, has the potential to do a lot of damage on a very large scale.
In the words of every single email greeting you've received since mid-March: "We're living in unprecedented times." As Americans, we're being asked to do a lot of things we may find bizarre: wear masks and gloves, stay six feet away from others, go months at a time without seeing our loved ones in person. On top of this, we're watching our leaders, the people who are supposed to set an example for the entire country, brush off the severity of this crisis and go about their days as if nothing were different.
Let me assure you: everything is different. Politics has no business in public health, and your political affiliation should not determine whether or not you follow federal health regulations.
Wear a mask.
Keep your distance.
Ignore (or better yet, admonish) the people who so wrongly believe that they are above the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus doesn't care about your political party, and at the end of the day, we all have the same amount of freedom and well-being to lose if we let this thing spiral anymore than it already has.