If it can save a life, why won’t you just wear a mask?

December 7, 2020 5:45 am

Treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness will have far-reaching consequences for Missouri and other states that follow similar paths (photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

I volunteered to work on Election Day in Cole County, and took training as an election judge.

At 54, I’m younger than most volunteers who might not feel safe working, I reasoned, and I had a ton of vacation days to use, so why not? I was worried about COVID but decided I just needed to suck it up and do my civic duty.

I just planned to take every precaution.

That day I was paired with a sweet woman who was called in after another person scheduled to work bowed out.

While others policed the line or screened voters or watched to ensure ballots were correctly inserted into the machine, we sat together for more than 14 hours that day, initialing 1,900 ballots – she as a Republican, I as a Democrat. She was a veteran at this, so she was adept at handling just about anything.

Turned out that she played cards with my aunt and had actually worked with my grandmother years ago in a Jefferson City office. I actually knew one of her daughters. We swapped tales as we repeatedly scrubbed ink pens and voter cards between handing out ballots and giving instructions to voters: “Fill out both sides/please color in the boxes/bring you pen back when you finish.”

We both laughed at how I kept pantomiming the “color in the boxes” action to voters and I marveled at the take-no-sass approach she used when telling a young gal in a rather snug Trump-Pence T-shirt that she couldn’t vote while wearing that, so “here, wear my sweater to cover it up,” handing over her cardigan.

At the end of the day, the lot of us decided that our crew – newbies and old hands combined – had worked well together and we’d try to keep the group together for the next election. My new friend had made the day more than tolerable. It had been downright enjoyable. People working and people voting had all been extremely careful – masks were worn properly, hand-sanitizer was used religiously and for the most part everyone was kind and respectful.

That was Nov. 3.

On Nov. 27, I watched my new friend’s funeral via a livestream on Facebook.

She didn’t contract COVID-19 on Election Day. Best guess is that she caught it the following weekend from an asymptomatic (and unaware) family member. A few trips to the ER and eventual admission to a local hospital, and then, barely three weeks after I’d met her, she was dead, gone from her family forever.

No more hugs from Grandma. No more motherly advice. No more holidays with the family matriarch.

No more.

Her death was entirely preventable, but you know, freedom, y’all. I believe that going unmasked in this day and age is tantamount to having a scarlet letter emblazoned on your breast. Only the “A” doesn’t stand for adulterer.

I understand wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, and we’re not used to it, but your staunch defense of going mask-free really only demonstrates to the world that you are unconcerned with the welfare of your fellow humans.

I don’t know why or how it became partisan or political. This mystifies me still. I don’t know why citizens feel compelled to belittle and threaten county health department employees or why some of our state’s elected officials brazenly ostracize members of the medical profession.

This state’s (and country’s) lack of any organized approach to fighting the pandemic is baffling.

Currently in Missouri, our executive branch wants local municipalities to manage public health rules and put any necessary restrictions in place. You know, “local control.” Now members of the legislative branch (from the same political party as our governor) are filing bills to wrest those controls away from local entities.

I’ve never imagined I’d witness such blatant disrespect for the medical community, frontline workers and fellow citizens. The wanton disregard for the lives of others.

I don’t want to shame you. I want you to help me understand your position. Please.

And don’t just tell me to stay home if I’m afraid. Explain why your temporary discomfort outweighs any other human’s right to life.

If it can save a life, why won’t you just wear a mask?

Asking for a friend.

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Jeannie Brandstetter
Jeannie Brandstetter

Former journalist and western Kentucky native Jeannie Brandstetter has served as communications director for the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys for 14 years. Prior to that, she wrote and edited for newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee and contracted as a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Energy.