To mask or not to mask?

When we took our oldest child to her pediatrician 11 years ago, the order was clear: do not give your baby peanut butter. Because peanut allergies are one of the most problematic allergies, doctors came up with a plan. That plan was to just tell parents to not give their children peanut butter. Parents obeyed.

But then peanut allergies skyrocketed. A further study found it was because parents were withholding all things peanut from their children, under doctors’ orders. Turns out the kids needed exposure to peanuts early on to not be allergic. So now, our youngest child, 11 years younger than the first and only nine months old, has doctor-approved peanut butter as a regular part of her diet.

What does this anecdote have to do with face masks? Well, it depends on which side of the issue you fall.

If you think face mask requirements test the limits of a free society, then you will see that the doctors in the beginning of the peanut anecdote were wrong, and they certainly could be wrong about face masks, too. However, if you wear a mask, you will remember that the CDC initially recommended against face masks, but with further study the CDC now finds face masks are the surest method of limiting the spread of COVID-19, much like further study showed peanut butter to be safe for most babies.

You’re both wrong. Face masks have nothing to do with peanut butter. Believe me, you can’t eat peanut butter with a face mask on, no matter how hard you try.

Seriously, though, don’t base your health decisions on anecdotes. Health care is an extremely complicated science, one that we are just beginning to learn, after 3,000 years as a profession. Making health decisions for 320 million people is a difficult challenge, especially during a time of a new disease. Nobody will be right all the time, but everyone is going to try, from the experts to the guy next door.

Even some medical professionals are arguing against the current push for face masks. They have been taught their whole careers that face masks can actually increase airborne diseases, and now they are being told that is not the case because of new evidence, and some are having a hard time changing.

So who do we trust, and what do we do? Well, if you value freedom, or in other words, don’t like being told what to do, then you don’t wear a face mask. If you value human life, or in other words, you’re risk adverse, then you wear a mask. We’re basing our health decisions off of gut feelings, and that is problematic. That is the reason why face masks have become a political issue instead of a health issue.

My personal opinion is that wearing masks is good. Most reputable sources show a decrease in COVID when face masks are worn. The only question I have is, when can we stop wearing them? It could be years before they develop a vaccine, if they ever find one that works. I don’t think wearing masks to every public function for the foreseeable future is doable. Living a life where every human interaction takes place either on a screen or between one is no life.

So, I also think not wearing a face mask is good. They are incredibly uncomfortable and hard to breathe through. Some of us can’t stand wearing them for any length of time. I know I’m good for about two hours, and then I feel like I’m suffocating. And I do run into a store now and again quickly without a mask when it is inconvenient to wear one.

But most times I wear a mask. It’s not that I’m scared of getting COVID — getting it, I’m afraid, is going to happen to most of us at some point. But it may help slow it down. I’d like to put having it off as long as possible. And, who knows? Maybe they will get a vaccine before too long.

It is also the respectful thing to do, especially around those who are scared, and whose lives and careers are on the line. Don’t shame me if you see me wearing a mask. It’s also disrespectful, though, to shame those who are not wearing masks. Sometimes the health decisions made by those who are in authority do not work for 320 million people. Everyone is different, which is what makes health care so complicated. Sometimes, people really are allergic to peanut butter, and maybe even face masks.

One last thing. I see no evidence that COVID is a government conspiracy to test whether or not the government has control over the population. Conspiracy theories like these clutter up my Facebook page. Don’t swap paranoia over the virus for paranoia over government control. It is possible that there are times when the government does not have the best interest of the population, but I’m an optimist, and I don’t think that is usually the case. It could be, in the future, that they discover face masks don’t work, but being wrong does not mean being evil. But that might be a topic for another day.

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