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You look out for me, I look out for you.

Ever since March, life has acquired a different flavor of ordinary than the one we knew. Lunch with friends, birthday parties, getting groceries, even going to the DMV—as annoying or as pleasant as these activities might have been, they were ones we took for granted. Those things never had a threat hanging over them, at least not one we could see. All of these things now require a second thought, with one common denominator: If we are going to do them, we need to wear a mask.

This regulation sounds logical enough, considering how easily coronavirus spreads and knowing that it does so through respiratory droplets.

If you told me a year ago that people would be fighting over whether it’s a good idea to protect themselves and one another from a pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Which, seeing as things are now, might have been very naïve of me.

The facts

The evidence is as clear as it is abundant. Masks help keep respiratory droplets contained, which in turn helps reduce the spread of the virus. There have been laboratory studies showing this.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found “that hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp washcloth.” But studies haven’t only been conducted in controlled settings. The most valuable information comes from analyzing existing, real-world scenarios. 

An excellent example of a real-world study compared COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states, as well as in Washington, D.C. They observed that mandates led to a slowdown in the spread of the disease.

In favor or against

If there is so much evidence that wearing a mask slows the spread of COVID-19, then wearing one should be a no-brainer.

But since March, we’ve slowly seen the matter of masks evolve from a hygiene and safety concern to a political one. Some have referred to masks as communist propaganda and a way to take away rights and freedoms.

However, liberties and freedoms have no room to coexist with a violation of other people’s rights. If my freedom threatens the well-being of others, it is not a freedom, but a privilege.

Masks mostly protect people from contracting COVID-19 when the carrier wears one. Therefore, wearing a mask isn’t only a commitment to your safety, but to others. It’s a way of non-verbally saying, “I take care of you, you take care of me.”

As young, healthy college students, it might be easy to forget that contracting COVID-19 entails more significant consequences for some than it does for us. Those that, regardless of age, are immunocompromised, the elderly, the homeless, those who might not be affected directly, but live with someone who is.

And the core of what I’m trying to say is this: Wearing a mask is not communist, socialist, Republican or Democrat. Caring about other people, wanting everyone to have a better chance at living a good, healthier life, is independent of politics. It’s deeply intertwined with compassion. 

More to gain

Through Facebook, Twitter, friends of friends, and more, I have become aware that there are people who believe masks are a way of mind control, or that this entire COVID-19 thing is a hoax, and therefore refuse to wear a mask. And in those cases, my thought process is: What do you have to lose?

Masks are non-invasive. No one is injecting anything into anyone, going into anyone’s homes, or anything of the sort. They are not an invasion of privacy and have no means of controlling anyone’s mind.

People can even sew their own masks if they feel like it. A piece of cloth in front of your mouth and nose is one of the most non-invasive things you could do.

Even if this was all a hoax, are you so sure that it is worth risking your’s and everyone else’s health? When you wear a mask, you do not look like sheep, just as when you don’t, you don’t stand out as a brave and independent thinker.

Wearing a mask is a sign of compassion, and that’s never a negative association.

Jeopardizing freedom

I want to address another counterargument that I believe is more popular and more substantial than that of mind control: You are free to do with your body as you please, and demanding that you wear a mask violates that right.

However, not quite.Freedom is a trickier thing than may be immediately apparent.

Yes, you are free to wear and do as you want. You can wear a kangaroo suit to the park. You can eat as much fast food as you want. Technically, no one can say anything about it because it only concerns you. But it’s different when your freedom starts to overlap with other’s rights.

Other people have a right to health and safety, and when evidence is substantial that someone not wearing masks interferes with those rights, you are no longer free to do as you wish with that.

Maybe you don’t personally know anyone who has been infected. Perhaps you think this is all an exaggeration considering the mortality rate is around 3.2% in the U.S. However, personal experience does not equal a universal one.

Just because you and those around you are healthy, it does not mean that is the case for everybody.

Some people cannot afford to get sick, especially considering the approximate 30 million jobs lost in the U.S. due to the pandemic.

It’s important to remember no one truly enjoys wearing a mask, and of course, it is way more comfortable to breathe without one. But my comfort doesn’t mean anything if it could lead to someone else’s illness or even death.

A step towards a regular life

Through cooperation and consideration of others, we can hope to slowly get back to a place where we can live in a way we consider normal.

It’s important to remember that no one would choose this over the comfort most of us knew.

We should welcome self-reflection, so when the moment comes to rebuild normality, we do it from a place of compassion and understanding for others.

Wearing a mask is not a matter of left and right, Republican or Democrat. Separation is poison when it comes to acting humanely. I believe all sides can be compassionate, all parties can be caring, and most importantly, I think all should be.

Associate Opinions Editor

My name is Johanna Leo and I was born and raised in Mexico City. I just moved to Hawai'i a year ago for college, so I’m currently a sophomore at UH Manoa. I am an English and Political Science major, minoring in Psychology.