Column

Put Your Mask On and Shut the F*ck Up

Only in America could something this basic be this controversial

Commuters arrive at Grand Central Station during morning rush hour on June 8. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Moments after entering the world, my daughter was put on a ventilator. I had developed a deadly illness during pregnancy — the only treatment for which was to deliver Layla three months early, way before her lungs had a chance to properly develop. And so my daughter needed breathing assistance for the first months of her life — ventilators, CPAP machines, and nasal cannulas. Every once in a while her oxygen would dip dangerously low and she would turn blue, machines blaring before a nurse would rush over to revive her.

Even after she finally came home from the hospital, it would be years before Layla stopped getting lung infections and pneumonia, before the panicked trips to the emergency room slowed and shifted into everyday childhood colds and cases of flu. I have no intention of seeing my now-nine-year-old on a ventilator ever again, nor do I have any desire to end up back in a hospital again myself. Being deathly ill is exactly as awful as you imagine.

All of which is to say: Wear your mask and shut the fuck up about it.

Americans seem intent on distinguishing ourselves as the most selfish assholes on the planet.

With over 120,000 Americans dead and millions ill, you would think that this incredibly basic act — covering your mouth to stop the spread of germs — would be a given. A basic human kindness. But as the rest of the world watches out for each other’s health and beats back the number of Covid cases, Americans seem intent on distinguishing ourselves as the most selfish assholes on the planet.

This week at a Palm Beach County commissioners meeting, Florida citizens erupted in anger after mask-wearing was made mandatory — comparing the rule to the “Devil’s law” and claiming “they want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door.” One woman even compared not wearing a mask to not wearing underwear: “Things gotta breathe.” (Right now, Florida has more than a hundred thousand people sick with Covid, and a record number of new cases each day.)

This isn’t just a one-off we can chalk up to Florida being Florida. Earlier this month, the health commissioner in Orange County resigned after outrage over her face-covering requirement; she needed extra security to handle all the threats. Meanwhile, a sheriff in Washington mocked people who followed the governor’s orders to cover their faces in public as “sheep,” and Rep. Jim Jordan was admonished Wednesday for refusing to wear a mask on the House floor. Even the president of the United States still won’t wear a mask — he thinks it will make him look silly.

Since the pandemic erupted, it’s becoming clear that the health and safety of all Americans depends on the whims of the dumbest among us. Videos posted from all over the country show people cutting holes in their masks to make it “easier to breathe,” haranguing grocery store employees who won’t let them enter without masks, and printing fake medical exemption cards to present to business owners — with threats of $75,000 fines if they are refused service.

I understand feeling trapped or claustrophobic about wearing a mask: I live in Brooklyn, where most people don’t have access to a backyard or other outdoor space where they can safely breathe without one. But no one is asking people to wear masks when they’re outdoors and a safe distance from other people. All of this is hard; it’s also completely doable.

Wearing a mask is not a freedom issue, nor does it have anything to do with the “devil.” It’s a matter of health, life, and death. Maybe you can look at my daughter — whose nose still bears a mark from the pressure of a breathing tube pressing inside it for weeks on end — and tell her that a mask makes you feel uncomfortable. Or maybe you can just put it on your face, protect your neighbors, and go about your day.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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