Masks are about respecting others, not protecting yourself

The people at sitting the table had not been wearing masks from the moment they sat down. In fact, the very first thing they did upon sliding into the booth, was to take their masks off and put them in their pockets.

It didn’t matter what the hostess had told them, it didn’t matter, what the signs said, or what the governor has recommended, or what the guidelines of the CDC state or what the local Health Department ordinances are. They were going to do what they wanted to do.

In the restaurant business, people are rude all the time. Sometimes they don’t realize they are being rude: maybe they didn’t read the sign, or maybe they are distracted by their phone, or maybe they are just tired. Who hasn’t in these days found themselves wandering the wrong way down the grocery aisle? Or forgotten their mask at the ATM? Or have missed any number of new requirements that change sometimes on a day to day basis? But there is a difference between being rude on accident and being rude on purpose.

“I’m sorry,” said the masked waiter. “We do request that when you are not actively eating and drinking, and especially when employees approach, that you please wear your mask.”

A reasonable request. If you are socially distancing (six feet as per CDC guidelines) you don’t have to wear a mask, especially if it is also with people from your own household. But the waiter is not six feet away, and he/she is not from your household. If he/she is wearing a mask, logic should dictate that you too should also be wearing one.

And it’s also the law. So, all the explanations, stories, beliefs, excuses, reasons, and websites you’ve visited, don’t really matter.

However, as brought to light by last weeks column, many people don’t seem to know this. I received a number of emails and online comments from people I know to be good people, who are considerate, intelligent, and informed, but hadn’t realized the dichotomy.

The people at that table didn’t make any effort to put on their masks. They just stared blankly at the waiter, and then went on to ordering as if he hadn’t said anything.

“I’m sorry,” said the masked waiter again. “It is our policy that when you are not actively eating and drinking, and especially when employees approach, that you please wear your mask.”

Again, a blank stare, and then they all ordered drinks.

In this pandemic era restaurants often have an impossible choice to make. Do they kick out customers – when they only have so many- or do they participate in circumventing a law? It’s the proverbial rock and hard place argument. And every situation is different. Some people know the rules, some people don’t. Some people are considerate, and some people are not.

When the server returned to the table with the drinks, he wasn’t wearing his mask. He put the drinks down and then stood back with his pad and pen.

“Will there be anything else?”

The table stared at him with their unmasked mouths hanging open.

“You’re supposed to be wearing a mask,” stammered one of the people.

He looked at her and smiled.

“So are you,” he replied.

People want to act as if the virus cares about what they think, feel, or believe. Diseases are immune to politics, to religion, and to discussion. Pandemics only three ways: the virus mutates, we reach so-called herd immunity (with potentially 4 million deaths in the US alone, not including massive hospitalizations as yet unknowable lingering effects) or we get a vaccine.

Usually I end this column with my thoughts. This time I will end it with the thoughts of two readers and a disclaimer.

– “Not everyone who doesn’t wear a mask is being defiant. Some of us can’t wear masks because of medical reasons. I have asthma, anxiety, and claustrophobia. I hyperventilate, then I start to sweat and shake. I’ve been told by store employees I don’t need to wear a mask if it causes distress, but the dirty looks and snide comments bother me more than the mask. I finally got a face shield. Maybe you could write something that lets people know some of us have medical issues that makes wearing masks nearly impossible.”

– “They can’t wait to get that thing off.  A guy walked past the bar not wearing a mask, so I said, ‘Sir, you’re supposed to wear a mask when you come into this room, he said yeah but I’m eating here.”          

-The first part of the story involving the waiter is true. The second part is a fictionalized account of what he wanted to do but couldn’t in that moment. But it certainly makes one think, doesn’t it?