Shared from the 6/25/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Why we wear masks

The Greatest Generation protected us; now we need to protect them (and everyone else).

In the first days after the attack on Pearl Harbor crippled the U.S. Navy and killed 2,403 men, women and children, U.S. military recruiting stations were suddenly swamped. An office in Birmingham, Ala., alone signed up more than 600 volunteers within hours of the news becoming public.

Over the next four years — from December 1941 to September 1945 — 16 million Americans would go off to war, including more than 407,000 who never made it back.

And it wasn’t just the soldiers who served. Those back home ate leftovers and planted victory gardens to make sure there was enough food to feed the troops. They bought more than $180 billion in war bonds and launched drives to scrounge scrap metal and rubber to build weapons and equipment. They volunteered as civil defense wardens.

They used ration books to buy limited supplies of butter, sugar, canned milk, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk and shoes. Women picked up the slack in crucial manufacturing by going to work in factories and shipyards.

This is what sacrifice looks like.

Staying at home except for essential errands, washing your hands, abstaining from the gym and bar scene or, heaven forbid, wearing a mask in public are minor inconveniences.

Asserting “individual rights” to flout life-saving health guidelines is not only cynically hypocritical, it is callously selfish.

Especially when you consider that the Greatest Generation, which suffered immeasurably to preserve those very rights, is now the most vulnerable population in the novel coronavirus pandemic. The least we can do is to put up with some minor discomforts to protect them.

Eighty percent of the deaths reported in the United States have been in adults 65 years and older, with the greatest danger to those over 80. The average age of a World War II veteran today, the 300,000 who survive, is 94.

The children who mounted paper drives, contributed their pennies and nickles to the war bond effort and lost fathers and brothers in the fighting overseas are among those in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities that have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 outbreaks.

Think about that when you hear someone say, “This is America. No one has the right to tell me what I gotta do and what I gotta wear.”

Americans have forgotten what it means to truly sacrifice for others. We have come to believe that streaming movies on our big-screen TVs instead of sitting in a theater, using home-exercise equipment instead of going to the gym and breathing through a mask while shopping for groceries are somehow violations of our constitutional rights.

Nothing reveals this benighted attitude more than the battle over face masks, which are arguably our best hope for slowing the spread of the disease but have been turned into a political statement.

“Plan A, don’t go in a crowd,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told Congress on Tuesday. “Plan B, if you do, make sure you wear a mask.”

We are seeing what happens when we ignore that advice.

Texas just reported 5,000 new coronavirus cases for a single day for the first time.

That frightening milestone came just days after soaring past our first 4,000-case day. Texas’ infection rate has doubled since late May, just as the state was beginning to reopen with a recommendation, but not a mandate, for wearing masks in public.

It wasn’t until this week that Gov. Greg Abbott even allowed local leaders, such as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, to mandate businesses to require facial coverings.

The governor, who has tiptoed around face masks as a “personal liberty” issue, is now all but begging Texans to finally fall in line.

Come on, Texas, put on the damn mask.

To those who say, “‘I’m young, I’m healthy, who cares?’” Fauci admonished, “You should care, not only for yourself but for the impact you might have” on making someone else sick.

It’s not a sacrifice or surrender of rights; it’s an inconvenience. It’s the least we can do, especially for those who have already given so much.

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