CAPE ELIZABETH — A man drives up in his white F-150 with New Hampshire license plates, jumps out of the truck and heads in the front door. I ask him where his mask was, and his reply is, “Masks are for Halloween and bank robbers!”

This may sound like a line in a chapter from “Old Puns for a New Pandemic,” but these are words I heard recently at my daily coffee and doughnut establishment. Clearly, this man felt that he doesn’t need to protect anyone, thinking he’s not in a nursing home, prison, veterans facility or other congregate setting. Or maybe he felt that he was just running in for a second to grab a coffee.

Or, maybe he wished to “Live Free or Die,” a state motto adopted in 1945 that was never intended to apply to a global virus.

Regardless, it seems to me that he had rocks in his head!

But he’s not alone.

I’ve gone to Home Depot, Hannaford and C Salt, and each has accepted patrons without masks, even though facial coverup requirements are posted on the front doors of each business. But their employees are not paid to confront myopic customers. We are the individuals who should feel empowered to figure out how to deal with those who flagrantly endanger us or others. We have evidence that the COVID particles can remain airborne, even from asymptomatic people. But we don’t know why those – with or without Maine license plates – wish to practice stupidity.

Here’s what I do know: Being naïve or openly defiant of a governor’s executive orders is not an excuse to practice senselessness or to make a statement.

The mask is a medical symbol and should never be a political one.

I know of more than a few people who feel that this virus is really difficult to catch. Tell that to the family members of the 100,000-plus who have sadly died from COVID.  And, to be truthful, I’ve not done my part to exercise my communication skills to nudge, persuade or demand that mask avoiders wear masks and practice social distancing. Oh, sure: I’ve been told by more than one medical expert and law enforcement officer to “avoid confrontation,” or perhaps “they have a medical reason” for not wearing a mask.

Worse yet, psychologists tell us that people just don’t want to be told what to do, an odd assertion, given that people are told not to smoke inside retail stores and that they’re told to sit, kneel or stand in church.

We have evidence of the virulence of COVID-19 and every age group has been affected. Yet I know of parents hosting “swimming parties” for their teens, other parents permitting their kids see their girlfriends or boyfriends a few nights a week, spouses dining with other couples around a fire pit, tradespeople coming into a house to do electrical work and many other situations where face masks were ignored or even ridiculed.

I don’t buy it.

These people may say, “Hey, the president doesn’t wear a mask!” to justify their behavior. But this president also informs us that he is taking an anti-malaria drug that has caused death in other COVID patients.  Why aren’t these same people asking their doctors for that drug?

Um. I think we all know why.

So, what do we do?

I, for one, continue to politely call (out) retail managers and store owners to ask why they are not enforcing mask usage. In fact, when Gov. Mills states that masks are required if social distancing is impossible, what store is absolved from this order? A doughnut shop should have the same sign as a big-box store: “Masks are required in here because it’s impossible to always practice social distancing.”

Second, social media can also play a role. Posting names of those businesses that ensure customer safety by requiring masks to be worn is great recognition. Patronize those businesses, too.

Finally, with our masks comes the use of our eyes. Sometimes, a penetrating stare may effect behavioral change or at least prompt some reflection.

Please wear a mask.

Protect yourself.

Protect others.

We’re all in this together.


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