As the confirmed case numbers of COVID-19 in the U.S. shoot past 3 million and deaths related to the virus continue to rise, I have looked on in dismay as a simple, but very effective tool in our arsenal to combat its spread has become a political punching bag.
I am a native Tulsan living in Japan. I may live abroad, but I still care deeply about what goes on in my hometown. I made my way over here while a student at the University of Oklahoma and have adapted to this country.
Among the many changes I have had to make is wearing a face covering when circumstances call for it. Masks in Japan usually come out during cold and flu season. After initial resistance on my part, I have found them to be the most effective method of preventing the spread of disease available, especially on the crowded streets and public transport here.
Two winters ago, I was standing on a very crowded commuter train next to a visibly ill person who succumbed to a harsh fit of coughing and sneezing. We were both wearing face masks, and I did not get sick, despite him being less than a six inches from me. I strongly believe that, without the protection of masks, I and others in the train car would have caught whatever bug he had.
Masks do not infringe on your freedom. Masks do not impede breathing. Masks do not admit or expose weakness. Masks do not make you less of a person. Masks simply show that you care enough about your fellow citizens that you are willing to cover up a little while in close contact with them.
It’s generally agreed that the most pernicious part of COVID-19 is that you can be asymptomatic or infectious in a pre-symptomatic state for days, even weeks. You may feel fine and show no outward signs of illness. In that time, without your knowledge, you could be spreading the virus, and the person you contact could be someone who has a precondition, which gives the virus a fatal foothold. Against that background, it’s not too far-fetched to feel that refusing to wear a mask is tantamount to manslaughter.
Japan has seen a rise in infections lately in association with the easing of the state of emergency here on May 25, but the scale is nothing like the U.S. has seen. On July 7, Japan, with a population of about 127 million recorded, 206 new COVID-19 infections. On the same day, Tulsa County recorded 261 new cases. The math here is not hard to figure out. If a mid-size county in Oklahoma can rack up 55 more COVID-19 cases than an entire nation, something’s off.
Mayor G.T. Bynum had it right when he said it was beyond him as to why masks have become a political tool. It’s beyond me, too.
Over here, we can go out. With due diligence, we can go to work, run errands and socialize in certain environments. People comply and wear masks, and we don’t feel it infringes on our personal freedoms. They are compulsory in many public settings, but we get that this is for the protection of everyone, not just ourselves.
I cannot reiterate this enough. Masks work, but it has to be a community effort. For the city, for the nation, wear them. It is the most patriotic act you can do. Stop making this a political statement and show some compassion. The life you save may be that of a loved one, a colleague or a friend.
John Lawrence is a native Tulsan who has lived for 30 years in Japan, where he works in the semiconductor engineering field.