Wearing face masks during the pandemic

To the editor:

I’ve witnessed something while walking, cycling and running in the Berkshires. First, it’s been several weeks since the order to wear face masks in public was issued by the governor. While some people may not like that order as perhaps infringing on their individual rights, wearing face masks along with self-isolation, social distancing and hand-washing are about the only defenses we now have against COVID-19, a disease that has already claimed over 89,420 (the official number as of May 17, 2020) lives.

There is a very small group of people who cannot wear face masks because of health reasons.

Here’s what I saw: First, a group of cyclists passed me (one of several groups of cyclists I’ve seen over the past several weeks) on a major road and not a single member of the group wore a mask. As a cyclist, I know that cycling is a public sport, and these folks were definitely riding in public and they were riding close together. Out of the hundreds of cyclists I have seen riding during the past several weeks, only a handful have worn masks. I see the same thing happening with runners. I know what a hassle wearing a face mask is during cycling, running and walking, but it’s the common good here and not individualism that matters. Next, a person walked by and he also did not have a mask on. My wife and I had to move across the street because he was walking with traffic instead of against it.

Walking along one major road in the Berkshires, I did an informal count of out-of-state license plates going by, and lots of plates were from out of state. The traffic seemed more like a typical late spring or summer day here and not a day during a pandemic. I don’t know what the significance of all of these out-of-state plates means to the health of local residents. Many of these people may be second homeowners, but the volume of traffic seemed far greater than the second homes in the Berkshires, and that is only an informal assessment. “Where New Yorkers Moved to Escape Coronavirus” appeared in the New York Times on May 16, 2020, showing graphically where some New Yorkers have moved since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, singling out New Yorkers sometimes carries with it prejudices that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

Perhaps we believe we are invulnerable in a rural area from the worst force of this pandemic, but that is not what experts say, who have studied this disease and where it might continue to spread. This is what science points to in the effectiveness of wearing face masks in “New Study Shows That This One Thing Could Cause 80% Decrease In Covid-19 Cases” (Forbes, May 12, 2020). I hope that the disease does not continue to spread here. Until science discovers a vaccine, wearing face masks in public when near other people makes lots of sense and it’s also the law. Face masks, like social distancing, are not political issues, they are life-and-death issues.

Howard Lisnoff