Sunday, July 19, 2020

Do I Have to Wear a Mask?

“I have my rights!”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“This is a freedom issue!”

All of us have rights.  Often, one person’s right to do or say something may collide with some else’s right.  One of our courts’ primary roles is to decide in these disputes whose has the better argument. These issues are not scored 100-0 in favor of the winner.  The decisions are nuanced as often both sides have a reasonable claim to argue. That's why the issue ended up in court.  And, as we know, the same set of facts might have led to a different result if a different judge or a different court had heard the case.

I have heard and read about individuals who have refused to wear a mask because they argue it encroaches on their personal freedom.  They have a right to determine their own dress code and the government has no right to impose its will on individual citizens. We’ve heard similar arguments offered by businesses who wish to open up faster than the government or public health officials have advised.

Some folks never leave the house without a mask.

I acknowledge that an individual who is required to wear a mask has a claim that his rights are being violated.  It is a governmental (or corporate) interference with an individual’s personal freedom.  And, this country, unlike many of our global competitors, was founded on individual rights, as chronicled in the first ten amendments to the constitution.   In other words, the guy has a case.

But, society also has rights and there are instances where their rights should prevail over that of an individual.  For example, if a parent decides for whatever reason not to administer recommended vaccinations to their children., should these children be permitted in public schools, recreational facilities, summer camps,  movie theaters, birthday parties or amusement parks?  An unvaccinated child, if given full access to society, could expose thousands of people, -  including the elderly, the very young and immunocompromised –  to the risk of serious illness.  These people also have rights.  In other words, these folks have a case.

Similarly, an unmasked man in the public square might be unknowingly infected with the novel coronavirus and could infect those who are near him.  Keep in mind that COVID-19 has no available vaccine or approved treatment yet.  The people who are in close proximity to the unmasked man also have rights.  They also have a case.

As I see it, both as a medical professional and a citizen, the public health argument triumphs. And, I don’t think that every dispute must be argued or litigated.   Regardless of your presumed legal right, why not simply do what is right?

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