Wearing my mask

It seems strange by today’s standards, but I can remember when Wyoming did not have an open container law. People routinely opened a can of beer on the street and sipped from the can as they drove down the highway. Living not far from the border between Wyoming and Montana, where the daytime speed limit was “prudent and reasonable,” it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be drinking a beer while driving 80 miles per hour on a two-lane highway, occasionally passing a semi truck against a solid yellow line uphill with oncoming traffic in sight. It was dangerous and there were some pretty dramatic accidents, but it happened. For the most part, people wouldn’t think of doing that today. The times have changed. Wyoming, like other states, has an open container law. It is illegal both to consume alcohol and to have an open alcohol container in a vehicle in Wyoming. Getting caught driving while intoxicated results in heavy fines and jail time. Not only have the laws changed, but people have changed their behavior. There are still some terrible drunk driving accidents, but they are less common than once was the case.

When I was growing up, people smoked cigarettes everywhere. There were ash trays in cars. Some models had ash trays in the back seat as well as the front. The ash tray in the break room at my dad’s shop often had smoldering remains of cigarettes hours after coffee break time. I’ve ridden a lot of miles with smoking drivers in a car with all of the windows rolled up. It was accepted as common behavior. People smoked in airplanes, in restaurants and in their homes. The times have changed. You’ll still occasionally see someone smoking in a car, but most of the time there is an open window. People no longer smoke in offices or public buildings. Most states ban smoking in restaurants. Even smokers don’t like to have someone smoke in their homes.

I grew up in a household where there was no alcohol consumption and no smoking. Neither of our parents smoked or drank alcohol. It was expected that we would do the same. As adults some of my siblings took up smoking and nearly all of us will consume a bit of alcohol on occasion. But open container laws and smoking bans in public places didn’t impact our lifestyles at all. I haven’t felt any particular restrictions on my behavior because of those laws.

I now live in a state where there is a statewide mask mandate. Face coverings are required, by state law in all public buildings. There are signs in all businesses indicating that faces must be covered. I don’t know if there are penalties for failure to comply, but people are following the order. We have hooks by the door of our house where we keep clean masks so that we are reminded to always take one with us when we are leaving home. Even outside, when walking near others, we all wear our masks. If I forget (and I have) and arrive in a parking lot without a mask, seeing the other customers reminds me to go back home and get a mask before entering a store.

We were wearing masks regularly before we moved to this state. Both of us are considered by our age and prior health conditions to be at risk for serious complications should we contract the coronavirus. With all of the stresses of moving and traveling, we were very careful to do what we could to avoid the possibility that we might spread the disease to others should be become infected and not show symptoms.

I’m pretty sure that just like open container laws and bans on smoking in public places, mask wearing is here to stay. After the vaccine becomes widely available and the pandemic eases, things are not going to go back to the way they were.

When the laws about open containers changed, there were people who complained about the loss of freedom. I’ve heard some pretty strong, and in my opinion insane, defenses of drinking and driving. The same thing happened when states passed bans on smoking in public places. There were folks who argued and complained and cried out loud about the ill effects of this restriction on their freedom. In both cases it is abundantly clear now that the benefits of such laws far outweighed the costs and those who argue against them today are considered to be outliers and their arguments are quickly dismissed. The freedom to not be killed by a drunk driver or die of secondhand smoke seem to be essential parts of life these days. It isn’t hard to imagine a day when it is considered common sense to not share diseases that are borne on droplets with others.

In the meantime, we have to put up with the arguments of those who simply don’t like change. Change, however, is inevitable. In the case of this pandemic it is hard to argue that change hasn’t already occurred. The county where we used to live, where there is no mask mandate, is reported to have 98% of all available hospital beds in use. There county where I now reside, where there is a mask mandate has only 26% of available hospital beds in use. That is a huge difference if you have an emergency and need to be treated.

Masks are only part of the changes that have already begun. Curbside service, automatic check out machines, plastic shields at check out stations, people who sanitize surfaces between customers, and more are becoming a way of life. The businesses that survive this pandemic will be the ones that are able to adapt and change in the face of changing circumstances.

Change is hard. People will continue to complain. But complaining doesn’t stop the change. It is frustrating when those elected to offices fail to show leadership, but many of them are not used to leading at all. They got where they are by following trends and adapting to the whims of polls and donors.

My advice is to keep your eyes out for a mask that doesn’t hurt your ears and doesn’t fog your glasses. When you find one, buy several. You’ll use them.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!