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Masked men, women are today’s heroes

Weekend voices: Susan Bigler

“Who was that masked man?” Citizens of an old west town would ask as the Lone Ranger rode out of sight on our black and white TV sets back in the 50’s, and the phrase is still part of the popular lexicon today. Symbolically we are still viewing in black and white today. Our TV screens evolved but the viral racism in our national culture has not been fixed, and we are now dealing with that in addition to a viral pandemic. People are dying from both causes.

It is ironic that over the past two or three generations our fictional heroes wore masks. We also watched Zorro, a character created in 1919 literature (coincidently while a pandemic was raging and masks were worn), who was popularized in the late ’50s on TV and in movies. Now we have a legion of masked heroes from Batman to Spiderman. Today, each of us who wears a mask in public is a hero of a sort because we are helping to protect others from harm.

The CDC has recommended wearing masks as a result of recent research that concluded that if 80% of the population wore masks properly in public , cases of the virus would be cut significantly. This is not 50%, half of us won’t do the job. Most of us must wear them.

In 1918, the world also experienced a horrible flu pandemic. An article for CNN.com by Paul French dated April 4 states that “it was the United States that led the world in mask wearing.”

In October of 1918, San Francisco was the first to pass an ordinance making it mandatory to wear a face mask. The public service announcements of the day sometimes took the form of jingles, like “Obey the laws and wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws.” Corny to us now, but effective at the time. We have our modern versions that catch attention and spread awareness, suited to the modern media.

In New York state, we are being asked to do our part by social distancing and wearing masks. Our Gov. Andrew Cuomo has led us in this coronavirus fight by giving us facts, informing us with daily briefings on what is being done and what we should be doing. Because of the cautious strategy he has followed, our state has managed a huge drop in cases, when other states are still rising. The governor gives the credit to the citizens for accepting the information and doing the right thing.

The philosophy is simple: “You don’t have a right to endanger others.” He has impressed this upon us, emphasized putting politics aside, to do what is our civic duty and “to respect each other’s air” specifically. He has authorized businesses to deny entry to those who refuse to wear a mask. This will give legal reinforcement to store owners who are trying to protect their employees and patrons, which they should be allowed to do.

Over 100,000 United States citizens have perished from this virus already. How can we not take it seriously? Young people especially. Ego? Do they feel invincible? Immune? Is it political influence or bad information? Memorial Day weekend was frightening with the packing of beaches and clubs across the nation. The example that made the news was Lake Geneva, Wis. After the state Supreme Court ruled against the governor’s stay at home order, it became anything goes for partiers, a “wild west.” The lack of face masks and social distancing was alarming.

Now, besides the reckless urge to party, we are faced with a very serious reason for gathering. The shocking murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by an officer of the law has zoomed the systemic inequality, brutality, and continuing racism in this country to the forefront, and the need to address it is immediate. Despite being in the midst of a pandemic, and although many are wearing masks, the magnitude of the protests will undoubtedly spike the infection rate. The intense, spontaneous response was necessary; it got the attention it deserved when the Minnesota state attorney general increased the charges and the whole country became engaged and enraged.

The peaceful protesters are putting themselves at risk of contracting the virus. They accept that risk in order to make a point. We have not been sacrificing for three months to save lives just to witness one sadistic man who somehow earned a police badge willfully take a life. Peaceful protesters who obey curfew and cooperate with police are not causing problems, only those who are taking advantage of the situation to loot and cause chaos.

In our little area of the world, we have been spared a serious outbreak so far, but Buffalo hasn’t, and we are connected to the city in many ways. Maybe it is for that reason that we see some reluctance to accept a mask as necessary. If we want to continue a low rate of transmission here, we can’t be mask slackers and we must continue to social distance. Decisions to gather in groups must be done with caution. Gatherings where people are unfamiliar with each other are irresponsible. Should anyone test positive, trackers must be able to follow up.

So, who is that masked man? He’s a hero, helping to protect others. He’s Everyone Man, supporting the heroic efforts of medical personnel, EMTs, first responders, essential workers, and police- who must do the job of stopping the criminals who are looting and destroying, and the job of controlling the crowds of protesters, to prevent injury and harm to them. He does his civic duty to make their jobs a bit easier and safer. We can all manage that much.

Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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