We must be thankful, here in the Rio Grande Valley, most people comply with masking recommendations.  

We must be especially thankful for the relatively high vaccination rate—much higher than Texas as a whole, and even higher than much of the U.S. As well as we are doing, we need to do better.

It is difficult to fathom the resistance of millions of our fellow citizens to the simple act of wearing a mask in public places and getting vaccinated. There are constant cries of “freedom”. But freedom for what? To die of a largely preventable disease by refusing to mask, get vaccinated, and social distance as much as practical?

In some respects, however, this is understandable even though the consequences of exercising these “freedoms” can be catastrophic. We are a Lockean Liberal nation, which means many/most value individualism over community, and one’s personal interests with little to no consideration of what is good for the community.

As with any ideology, individualism is a double edged sword. Certainly we don’t want to live in authoritarian societies where we are born to serve the community with no regard to our individual interests or welfare. To be able to have our own interests, follow our own pursuits is important.

Samuel Freeman

Yet, community is important also. Humans are “herd” animals. We live in groups. We accomplish far more by working together than by going it alone. Think of building a barn by one’s self, or having the assistance of others. We are highly dependent on others irrespective of how reverently we want to deny that. We do not feed ourselves, clothe, house, educate, transport ourselves. Others provide virtually all of those things in one way or another. We are dependent on them and have responsibilities to them.

The “trick” is to balance individualism and community, to balance individual welfare and community welfare. However, with covid, the two actually are congruous.  

We have an individual and a community responsibility to protect ourselves, and to protect those around us. There are simple and effective ways to do this. Unfortunately, misplaced senses of individualism and “freedom” are causing people to act in ways that are harmful to themselves as well as everyone around them, and to the community.

For those of us who believe in our responsibilities to protect ourselves and to protect others within our community and are growing impatient with those who do not, perhaps we should remember the arguments we are hearing today are not new.

Think about requirements for seat belts in vehicles, child car seats, motorcyclists wearing helmets, no smoking ordinances, school vaccination requirements.

When each of these now almost universally accepted requirements first were established, there was strong resistance. People believed it was a “personal choice” whether to wear a seatbelt. Child car seats? “I don’t need government to tell me how to protect my baby.” Motorcyclists wearing helmets? “If I want to risk serious head injury in an accident, that is my choice; government has no right to tell me what to wear.”

We heard the same arguments about local ordinances, and State and Federal laws to prevent smoking in public buildings, businesses, and on airplanes. We have heard similar arguments about vaccinating our children against a host of diseases from small pox to polio.

Every parent should want to take precautions to protect their children from accidents and sickness. That is a responsibility every parent has toward their children. And it illustrates that we do not have only personal responsibility to ourselves. We have responsibilities toward others—to members of our families, to our friends, our neighbors, our community, our nation.

Today, we have millions of people refusing to wear masks that will protect themselves from covid; AND protect their family, friends, neighbors, community and nation. They are adamant, vocal, occasionally violent. But, they need to rethink their beliefs and recognize they are illogical and incorrect.

Covid is a public health crisis. It has killed over a million people in Latin America, and well over 600,000 in the U.S.  With the delta variant surging throughout the nation, and even in the Valley, it is extremely important we take very possible precaution to prevent infection. The delta variant is far more contagious than the original virus or any previous mutations. It also is more deadly and has severe detrimental (including fatal) consequences for our entire population, and importantly, including children.

Do we honestly want our children to get covid, to get severely ill, to be hospitalized, to die? What loving parent wants that for their child? Or for their child to grow up without a mother or father, or both because they refused to take the simple steps that could save their lives.

Some people say masks don’t work. Really? Consider this hypothetical. You are in the hospital for some type of surgery—appendix removal, surgery for a broken bone. You are in the operating room with a doctor, maybe two, an anesthesiologist, a surgical nurse, and maybe another nurse or technician or two. They all are wearing masks? Why?

Yes, because we have known for well over a century masks prevent the transmission of bacteria and viruses from those in the operating room to patients who, because they are being sliced open, are very vulnerable to infection.  

So, do you want them to be masked; or would you prefer they not be? Should it be their “freedom” to choose?  If we want medical personnel to be masked in operating rooms, shouldn’t we want to mask in public places where transmission could be high? Mask protection works both ways — the person wearing the mask, and those nearby.  

Those who argue masking does not prevent the spread of covid simply are wrong. They either are profoundly ignorant or they are lying. Those who oppose mask mandates for our children in our schools are wrong. They either are profoundly ignorant or they are lying.  

This is a public health emergency. Government has a responsibility to protect the public health. But we have a responsibility to assist the government. That means getting vaccinated., masking and social distancing

We are so fortunate to have had decades or research into mRNA enabling scientists to develop two highly effective vaccines so quickly. That some people would have some reluctancy to take a vaccine that only has “emergency authorization” is understandable.

We now have tremendous data on the efficacy and safety of these vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine Monday. We can expect full approval of the Moderna vaccine soon, and of Johnson & Johnson within a few months.

Yes, in a very real sense, the over 200 million Americans who have received covid vaccinations have been part of a huge clinical trial. And this huge “trial” has demonstrated beyond question the vaccines are highly effective and also very safe. We must hope full approval will lead many more people to do the responsible thing and get vaccinated.

Let’s put our personal freedom into perspective. Do we have the personal freedom to ignore stop signs? To ignore traffic lights? To refuse to get or vehicles inspected? These are public safety issues. By adhering to these public safety requirements, we protect ourselves from injury and death. We also protect others.

This is a matter of personal and public health, a matter of personal and public safety. Please, those refusing to mask and to get vaccinated need to rethink your beliefs. Being responsible literally is a matter of life and death.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and academic, Samuel Freeman. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Freeman can be reached by email via: [email protected]


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