When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that hand washing could save lives in the hospital setting it was the middle of the 19thcentury. Centuries before that there was anecdotal evidence that hand washing could save lives. During the Black Plague Jewish people died at a much lower rate because of their religious ritual of hand washing. Despite these obvious indications of the benefits of hand washing, when Dr. Semmelweis pushed for instituting hand washing to save lives, he was shunned. He left the medical profession a broken man and died in an insane asylum.
Fast-forward to today and you can see a similar situation, in my opinion, in mask wearing. Despite scientific and anecdotal evidence that masks help slow the spread of diseases that are spread through the air, there is great animosity shown toward those who advocate for wearing masks and those who choose to wear masks. Recently I learned of an experience a friend had while wearing a mask in an indoor public space. A person screamed at her for her mask wearing and after going off on her stormed out of the building without giving my friend a chance to respond. Earlier this summer a person without a mask on walked into a local store that required masks. When an employee approached the customer he said “I don’t wear a mask, but I do carry.” Another customer at a store that required masks proudly walked out of the store with their items at the check out stand after they were confronted about the lack of a mask. No doubt all of these folks are unabashedly bragging about these incidents. It appears they think they are standing up to big government and protecting their freedom.
It took many years for hand washing to become mainstream. Even today medical professionals and the public in general can become lax in the practice when there is no health scare on the horizon. I am confident that one day mask wearing will be much like washing your hands. While we will not need mandates for mask wearing, most people won’t think twice about putting on a mask when heading into an indoor public space during a pandemic. In the meantime, I will ready myself for the attacks that may be directed at me when I wear a mask and focus on keeping calm and not escalating the situation.
I don’t see myself wearing a mask on all of my travels in the future, but I certainly will not look at those who choose to wear a mask and think they are a bit off, as I have in the past. However, I will continue to shake my head in silent disgust when I see a man come out of a public bathroom stall and walk out without washing their hands.
• Charlie Stephens is a resident of Kenai.