As we enter the second year of the COVID pandemic, I find that I have had to absorb so much about topics with which I have previously had little familiarity.
I had heard of viruses but knew little about them except that they were different from bacteria and that antibiotics did not stop them. Having had good parents and teachers over the years, I knew that it is important for good hygiene to wash your hands and to cover your mouth when you cough. Recently, I had picked up on the recommended way to cover your mouth with your elbow instead of your hand because hands can more readily transmit disease, both to yourself and others.
So while I had a few of the hygiene basics in my repertoire of ingrained habits, this past year forced me to gain a better understanding of how to deal with a far deadlier virus than I was used to. So I have been absorbing all that I can from a variety of news sources, all of which are recognized as following established standards of journalism unlike any “news” one might derive from social media or random sources on the internet.
I have used that information to guide my behavior such that I would minimize my chances of catching COVID and passing it on to my loved ones.
So having been very attentive to all things COVID related, I have been mystified by the continuing debate over wearing masks. I have tried to understand the opposition, but have found their arguments to lack logical coherence.
Concerning mask-wearing, I hearken back to those childhood lessons to cover my mouth when I cough. Were my parents and teachers wrong to tell me that doing so would help prevent the spread of disease?
More recently, I have had the unfortunate experience of having to have a few surgeries. When the doctors and nurses walked into the operating room, were they wrong to be wearing masks? Did those masks not serve any useful purpose? Should I have felt equally comfortable that my health was being protected if they had walked in without wearing masks?
Beyond ignoring the health benefits of mask-wearing, some of the opposition to masks cites “freedom” as the motivator. That is, if I understand it correctly, we live in a country where the government should not restrict our freedom to do as we please.
I find it highly ironic that we have two local municipal elected officials leading the charge on this. When speaking to groups during my decades of city management experience, I explained that state and local government really only do two things: provide services and regulate behavior.
And for governing boards, once they adopt the annual budget, they have pretty much set out the services that they are going to provide over the next year. After that is done, most of their other activity involves regulating behavior.
When they consider and pass ordinances or laws, they are regulating behavior. And they do this in a wide range of spheres, ranging from speed limits to zoning to building codes to fire regulations to property crimes to crimes against persons. The list goes on and on.
It even extends to the Village Council in Pinehurst considering a purely aesthetic issue and proposing to regulate behavior as it relates to the planting of trees.
So where is the logical coherence in opposing masks (which prevent the spread of disease and protect people’s health) as being an affront to “freedom,” but not opposing the thousands of other ways government regulates behavior including whether someone has to plant trees on their lot as a matter of aesthetics? Are not all of these other ways also impacting people’s “freedom” to do as they please?
Of course, they are. And there can certainly be rational discussions to be had regarding what behavior should be regulated. However, amorphous appeals to “freedom” really don’t convince me of anything, particularly when the behavior attempting to be regulated is — literally — a matter of life and death.
Not being a nihilist, I believe as a Christian that we should all love one another and that our actions should be guided by that principle. As such, government regulation of our behavior in terms of mask-wearing seeks to protect everyone’s health through a minimal impact on everyone’s freedom to do as they please. It sounds like exactly what someone would want to do if they chose to follow Christ’s exhortation to love thy neighbor as thyself.
Kyle Sonnenberg, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.