Last night Doug and I watched the 2019 movie “Midway,” which had spectacular CGI aircraft battles. We somberly recognized the extraordinary sacrifices made by the young men who served. This after we also watched the Ken Burns’ series on Vietnam on Netflix. Different eras, different situations but what remains constant is the incredible sacrifice of Americans to serve and protect fellow Americans.
Which is why it’s hard for me to comprehend why some Americans are resistant, almost militant, to wearing a mask in public to protect against coronavirus. Even more, why anyone in the hemophilia community would resist. Of all people, we know what it’s like to be caught in an epidemic, to be victims of public health breaches. We’ve had horrific sacrifices, and those of us who escaped HIV by a year or so are forever grateful and respectful to those who lost their lives.
But lately on Facebook some hemophilia colleagues questioned what good would wearing a mask do, and others defiantly claimed they would not wear one in public. “I’m an American,” one woman wrote; she had worked for a hemophilia specialty pharmacy. “It’s my constitutional right not to wear one.” This, in white letters on a screaming red background. Another, an industry rep in Florida, wrote that he didn’t know anyone with COVID, thought it was overblown, didn’t see any difference in life in his corner of the world, so he was not going to wear a mask in public.
Beyond the actual act of going in public without a mask was the “unmasked” attitude: I’m an American and I’m doing whatever I want.
This led to a barrage of replies and comments about what it means to be an American, especially that it’s not always “about you.” The woman replied, “You do you and I’ll do me.” An extremely selfish comment to make during a pandemic, with over 125,000 Americans dead in a few months (more than twice the number that died in nearly two decades of fighting in Vietnam).
I kept thinking about our Hemophilia Holocaust. HIV is much less contagious than COVID. You can only catch it in certain ways. COVID is incredibly contagious. Yet during the HIV era, you did not hear from people screaming about their rights to do what they wanted, and not be inconvenienced by taking precautions. It made me wonder, what if we substitute the word mask with condom?
“I’m an American and it’s my constitutional right not to wear a condom if I don’t want to!” True, but what do you risk? Disease, unwanted pregnancy, spreading disease to others. Spreading the disease to babies. You never hear anyone talk like that about condoms. Why are we even applying constitutional rights to something that is about protecting public health? This was never done before. Is it because it’s an election year? Has politicizing a public health crisis changed the way people view public health now?
Well, Florida is now being considered an epicenter of COVID-19. It had almost 10,000 new cases in a single day, the highest in the country. Florida is going backwards, because it reopened, and people did not take precautions. A good friend of mine there took advantage of the reopening, got together with her family for the first time in months at a restaurant for just a couple of hours. Almost everyone got COVID, and some are very sick. She has completely changed her mind about wearing masks; it’s now imperative.
And 36 states have escalating cases. My state, Massachusetts, is holding steady, but we should be declining, with all that we know about this virus. Look at New Zealand: it’s considered virus free now, because it locked down, people wore masks and social distanced, and they united as a country to fight this common enemy.
Why is America now the leading country with the highest number of cases of COVID? Because so many are not taking precautions, like wearing a mask. A simple sacrifice that certainly does not infringe on any of your freedoms. It’s a lot less inconvenient than using a condom. And the simplest of sacrifices compared to those who fought–and died–for our freedom.
To be an American to me means honoring the sacrifices made by those who died protecting our freedoms: in World War II, in Vietnam, the doctors and nurses who have died recently, the patients and yes, babies, who have died. Remember the famous words: It’s not about what your country can do for you, but about what you can do for your country. Wearing a mask protects you, but it’s not about you. It’s about protecting others, stopping the spread. Sacrificing a slight inconvenience to help preserve the common good. Uniting and adopting known ways to stop the spread of this virus. With the freedom and rights of being an American come responsibilities.
What does it mean to you to be an American in a pandemic? What have you learned from the HIV holocaust? What can you do to stop the spread of this insidious virus? Some things to really ponder over the upcoming fourth of July weekend. Appreciate what our medical community is enduring as more people require hospitalization; empathize with those who have lost loved ones. Watch “Midway,” “Pearl Harbor” or some other good war movie. You will see what real sacrifice is, and what being an American really is about.