COVID Mask Controversy — Is it a Civil Rights Issue?
A longtime Facebook friend I respect and like wrote a scathing indictment of society that imposes mandatory mask wearing on all of us. After showing both sides of the controversy, I want to share a report from personal experience. When I describe my personal experience, I want you to try to imagine that it was you in my place or someone you love. And no, I did not get infected.
Arguing for freedom to choose as a human rights issue
On his blog, to which I have a subscription, Michael Lumish writes:
The muzzle-mask is not merely an inconvenience.
It is a symbol of submission.
I have seen even worse condemnations of governments that make us all cover our faces, hiding us from one another. I am currently in a rehabilitation center after an operation and, while patients do not need to wear masks — and I admit that is a great relief for me — all the staff do. Given how happy I am not to have to wear the mask in here, I can certainly identify with those who decry its mandate. (And I must admit that I was a bit lax about it before being confined to this place.)
I can also understand the dismay of not seeing people’s faces.I interact with the staff often and in close proximity. Caretakers watch over me in the shower, nurses administer my intravenous antibiotics and check my temperature and blood pressure regularly; I have asked most of them to lower their masks, once, just for a moment, so I can see the face beneath the eyes. It helps me relate to the whole person behind the mask to have seen their lips in a smile, dimples or wrinkles, shape of the cheekbones. I have sometimes been surprised by the older appearance of someone whose eyes and demeanour looked younger and vice versa. For the sighted person, having an image in mind of the uncovered face is humanizing, for me at least. Perhaps it should not need to be that way — perhaps the eyes, that can either sparkle or look at one emotionless, should be sufficient. But for me it is not. Therefore, I understand the chomping at the bit, anxious to get rid of this involuntary imposition of face covering upon us. (As an aside, I wonder if those on Facebook who rail against the mask as one step toward total tyranny feel the same about regimes that force their female citizens to wear the hijab or, worse, the veil, under threat of imprisonment if they do not comply.)
Arguing in favour of collective responsibility
In contrast, television news personality Avri Gilad wrote that the civil rights argument of those who claim the right to personal freedom to choose (he was relating to taking the vaccine, but I think the argument is the same for masks) is actually a selfish argument for their own personal civil rights without regard to the civil rights of others.
And, Avri writes (my translation):
The discussion is only a discussion of rights, and the right under discussion here is the right to get infected and to infect others.
Where is personal responsibility, Avri asks? He goes on to say that “democracy is not good for pandemics” and what works in normal times does not work during emergency times.
What I find disconcerting is that people are arguing over the right to wear a mask or not, the right to get the vaccine or not (and don’t tell me I cannot go into a cinema or theatre if I elected to assert my right not to put some foreign substance into my body, they say!!) when they should be discussing the best way for society as a whole to get over this pandemic if their government does not seem to be doing a good job of it. (Another aside: I wonder how many people with tickets to Africa or Asia inquired about the chemical components of the multiple shots they had to take, had to get signed off on, as a matter of fact, in that little yellow vaccination booklet at the Israeli Health Ministry vaccination unit. Did anyone forgo the trip when a foreign country said they would not allow entry to someone who had no proof of vaccination?)
Regarding the mask. I hate it just as much as Lumish does. He writes:
My intention is to ditch my mask shortly.
It’s been a whole year, for chrissake, and that is enough.
Unintended Consequences of Not Wearing a Mask
But perhaps a whole year is not enough. Here I sit in my room in rehab giving testimony of the potential impact of not wearing a mask.
Just under a week ago, the nurses came into our rooms before we had had the chance to shower and dress and told us we were confined to our rooms for the next 14 days. We are tested for COVID before we are admitted and then once a week while we are here, and two of our fellow patients were just found to be positive. It is most likely that the visitor of one of them did not wear a mask; the case is under investigation. He succeeded in infecting a family member and one other person and; for the rest of us, destroying the routine that helps us keep our spirits up as we each cope with healing from the various issues that brought us here.
Visiting was cancelled totally. Not a single visitor allowed. Before this, because of the pandemic, visiting hours were 1½ hours twice a week; two members of the patient’s immediate family were given permission to visit, one each time. There were certain individuals who were allowed more frequent visits if their individual circumstances required the extra emotional oxygen only a visit could provide or if the patient required more intensive help with eating, for example. Of course, visitors were instructed to keep their masks on at all times and periodic loudspeaker announcements reminded them that if a visitor is found without a mask that person will be asked to leave at once and all visiting privileges revoked. (The police would be called to remove anyone refusing to leave when asked.) It appears that some people do not believe the rules apply to them — civil rights and freedom to choose, you see.
We used to wander the floor freely, sitting together to eat and chatting together at any time of day either on the balcony or in the dining hall, perhaps even in each other’s rooms. We went to physiotherapy and occupational therapy in dedicated rooms outside our own ward. Now, the doors of the hall leading to those therapy rooms are shut and whatever materials could be brought into our ward now sit in our halls and patients receive their treatments in very indiscrete, less than ideal circumstances. Our meals are brought to us in our rooms, meaning that we have lost our usual occassion for socializing.
We have permission to take walks in the hall (with a mask on outside our rooms) and so sometimes I get to wave to my friends as they sit in their rooms. Sometimes, I even meet one or two as they also escape cabin fever by taking a walk with walker or wheelchair. We are allowed onto the balcony solo only and only for a few moments. Then it is back to the room.
Personally, after a day of depressed mood, I bounced back to my usual self, asked for a small table to be brought into my room so I could sit comfortably for meals and work on my laptop (I get more done at a table than with the laptop propped on my knees in bed). And I have macrame cords here that safisfy my need for doing something with my hands. Yet I am counting the days until we get released from isolation. I miss sitting with my friends over meals. I miss my daughter and how she boosts my spirit in those short infrequent visits . Even with my window open, I feel the air in my room is oppressive at times. Luckily I live alone and I can leave on my scheduled release date to finish off the last 4 days of isolation in my own home.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. Before she could have an operation to remove her cataracts, one of my friends got a serious case of cancer and is here recuperating from sudden unexpected and devastating side effects of the cancer and the radiation treatment. She cannot read and cannot watch television. Her lifesaver was sitting with others around the table and socializing through the day, now forbidden. She had a few large-piece jigsaw puzzles brought to her room and does them over and over again. She is a resilient woman and somehow is managing not to sink into depression.
But what about those who had family members come to feed them every day? Not only does the burden fall on the caretaking staff, but the patient is no longer able to look into the loving eyes of someone who cherishes him or her with a lifetime of shared memories from earlier healthy days. What about roommates who do not have a language in common? What about the new patients, here for only a day or two before having our ward locked? They barely had time to adjust to the confusing situation of being in rehab, had no time to connect with any fellow patients, and suddenly they are isolated in their rooms. What about those whose release dates were supposed to be within the 14-day isolation period? Some are here only a few extra days, but some a week and a-half, each day an eternity.
What about the caretakers and nurses who now have to wear hot and uncomfortable protective coverings over their uniforms? Some have remarked about how hard it is to breathe like this.
It was my experience here that really showed me the potential unforeseen unintended consequences of only considering my personal right to freedom of choice regarding wearing a mask in certain places or getting or not getting the vaccine. Even before the investigation is completed, the maskless visitor to our floor knows he infected a family member and another patient, who were, at the time of infection, recovering from some injury or operation, an additional burden their weakened bodies really did not need. I suppose he also knows that he sent almost 40 people into isolation in their rooms. I wonder if he feels guilty about it. Guilty enough to keep the mask on when the guidelines tell him to?
True, wearing the mask in the street or in a park or on the beach may seem nonsensical and overkill. But do you know how long you can stand beside someone at a crosswalk before it turns green before there is a chance one of you may infect the other if neither of you are masked? The head nurse here told me that since the virus is so unpredictable, even that is possible. What about standing in line at the beach to buy a snack at a kiosk? Please don’t tell me you space yourselves in line at 2 meters apart because I won’t believe it. What about walking behind someone close enough to enter the mist cloud of their exhaled breath? Or if you are infected and you don’t know it and someone else walks behind you long enough to catch it? Do you care? Or do you only care about your own comfort? Many people violate isolation orders and go out in the streets among people; some of them even know they tested positive but are asymptomatic. Do you want to take the chance that that person is walking alongside you or standing with you in line at an outdoor kiosk?
If someone wants to take the chance of getting infected, I guess that is that person’s civil right. But it is not a civil right to infect someone else. Those with HIV who did not wear a condom, thereby knowingly risking infecting the sexual partner and the partner did, in fact, get infected, are liable to be charged in a court of law. That will probably not happen with COVID because it is almost impossible to prove at this point.
Liberal societies are individually oriented and more conservative societies are collectively oriented; when either is extreme the entire society suffers. There needs to be a balance — individual freedoms when these do not affect the basic rights or freedoms of others, in which case a collectivist consciousness should arise for the time needed to overcome such emergencies as our current pandemic. After all, someone without a mask took away my basic freedom of movement and visitation while I am recovering from surgery. And don’t tell me that was just stupid and everyone should know not to take the mask off among sick and older people in a closed space. Classes of school children have been sent home into isolation (meaning their whole families are in isolation) because one teacher regarded it as her personal choice not to get the vaccine and she came to school infected. When they do epidemiological research to find infection chains for someone who tests positive for the virus, many people who were near them, in stores and elsewhere, are compelled to go into isolation in order to cut that chain, and not just the individual who tested positive. For that reason, all of us are potentially affected by one person’s lack of consideration. It is incumbant upon ALL OF US to do what is necessary to cut the chains of infection and wearing the mask is an important way to do that.
I don’t like it either.