By Reggie Connell / Special to The Apopka Voice

I don’t like face masks.

They’re uncomfortable, hard to breathe through, annoying, and I am continually making re-adjustments because I’m not used to having a string tied to my head or fabric over my mouth. If it were up to me, if my actions did not affect anyone, I wouldn’t wear a mask.

I would also drive my car as fast as I wanted, and park it anywhere I pleased. I would talk in theatres, play my music louder, grill steaks from my apartment’s second-story patio, and let the smoke go where it may.

But because I live in a society where my actions could adversely affect others, I follow the rules and laws. I am considerate of others. I do unto others as I would want them to do to me.

I don’t like face masks, but I will wear one at the appropriate times and places. Why? Because it is a small enough annoyance to manage when you consider we are dealing with a virus that can stay in the air for up to three hours, has no known cure, has infected over 1.25 million Americans and killed over 75,000.

I know, deep down, I will never get COVID-19. I have an awesome immune system, and I rarely get a cold or miss a day of work. I calculate my odds at less than 1% of catching the coronavirus.

But, if I were wrong, and the 100:1 shot came in… if my awesome immune system failed me, and I caught the coronavirus and transmitted it to someone in our community that had a lesser immune system than me and died, I couldn’t live with myself.

It is for that primary reason we wear a face mask… to protect each other, not ourselves.

There is a time when the individualist spirit in all of us goes out into the world to stake our claim, work hard, and make our dreams come true. It’s us against everyone. At certain times, that is the American way.

However, fighting COVID-19 isn’t one of those times.

In times of pandemic, we stand together as a neighborhood, community, city, state, or nation, and persevere together.

There has been a lot of debate about face masks on popular social media sites in Apopka, Orange County, and throughout the country. Residents, probably frustrated from weeks of stay at home orders, are expressing their views about more limitations set in response to the coronavirus. They have thrown around phrases like socialism, civil rights violations, oppression, and overreaching elected officials in describing face masks.

I certainly understand the desire to push back on government restrictions, but perhaps your protests are the overreach in this instance. Is it possible that the minor and temporary restrictions imposed to improve public safety are just that?

Minor.

Temporary.

Improve public safety.

However, if you think wearing a mask is akin to socialism or communism, I would refer you to oppressive regimes like China – where residents lived under quarantine for months under the watchful eye of the government. I would also refer you to Russia, where three frontline health care workers mysteriously fell out of hospital windows over the past two weeks.

If you sincerely believe that your civil rights are being trampled upon because you have to wear a mask during a public health crisis, I would refer you to slavery, women’s suffrage, worker’s conditions at the turn of the century, World War II restrictions on American citizens, the holocaust, Jim Crow laws, and countless other atrocities where people actually suffered.

Is wearing a face mask truly where you want to stand your ground?

Is this your Patrick Henry moment?

Is this the place where you cross the Rubicon?

Is this the bus seat you will not give up?

Is this the lunch counter you refuse to leave?

And what about these elected officials imposing the face mask mandate on Orange County residents just as we were heading into a phase one re-opening of the state?

The coronavirus is perhaps the most significant challenge many leaders will face in their careers. It is fair to assess their performances and vote accordingly. Judge all of them – from the president to senators, congress, legislature, governor, county chair, county commissioners, mayors, and city commissioners in this time of crisis. However, also understand the difference between judging their job performance and being political during an emergency.

Voters can surely bring a range of ideologies with them to the ballot box. And how to balance the economy with public safety during a crisis should be one of them. This coronavirus has been a stress test for our leaders, and in many ways, shows their priorities in stark terms. Surely some approaches deserve spirited debate.

When should we reopen the economy, and how?

Should restaurants be allowed to open their indoor dining areas?

How many customers should be allowed in a retail store?

Which businesses should be allowed to open?

Can we go to the beach?

When should we reopen schools?

After eight weeks in lockdown, it is a blessing to go back into the world with just a little more flexibility than we had. We are still not out of the woods, but it appears things are better than they were – enough to start phase one of re-opening Orange County and Florida.

It seems a small enough price to wear a face mask during this period. There is little downside, and a great deal of potential upside – primarily the safety of our community.

A friend of mine emailed a quote to me from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who lived in Paris during the Nazi occupation, one of the worst times and places in history. His words are appropriate for this time in history as well:

“Look back, look forth, look close, there may be more prosperous times, more intelligent times, more spiritual times, more magical times, and more happy times, but this one, this small moment in the history of the universe, this is ours. And let’s do everything with it. Everything.”

These may well be the worst of times and the worst of conditions we will ever experience in our lives, but let’s experience them, let’s learn from them, and let’s grow as a community and a nation in this time of crisis. Let’s come out on the other side of this pandemic as better people.

But most of all, let’s not unravel and fight over petty annoyances. Not now.

And for those of you poised to run these incumbents out of office, fear not. November is right around the corner. There’s plenty of time to swing that political hammer with abandon.

In the meantime, let’s summon our better angels and survive COVID-19 with dignity, grace, charity, and goodwill for all.

We’re going to win this thing. It’s only a matter of time.

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