Of all the dismaying things to come out of the coronavirus controversy, the debate about wearing masks may be the most specious.
Those who oppose masks argue they “don’t work.” They point to defenses that have long been debunked, attributed to political agendas or are progeny of internet-driven disinformation campaigns. The vast body of medical evidence is incontrovertible: Masks, while no cure, dramatically reduce the spread of not only the coronavirus but other germ-causing illnesses as well. They are worn primarily to protect others from what comes out of your nose and mouth.
This “debate” belongs on the dark fringes of the internet, not in Southern Pines town government, yet that’s where Town Council member Mitch Lancaster has taken us.
No sooner had the council decided last month to resume in-person meetings — in accordance with health protocols — than Lancaster announced he would not be wearing a mask to meetings.
“I am happy to stay 6 feet from everybody, but I will not wear a mask,” the otherwise normally amiable Lancaster said. Then, later in an interview with The Pilot, he said, “We try to keep greater politics or world events out of the council room as much as we can, but this is a unique situation. I really believe that masks do not work.”
Debunking the Declaration
You might recall the last time The Pilot wrote about Lancaster, back in early February. He was at church on Super Bowl Sunday when he began experiencing symptoms that eventually turned out to be a stroke. Lancaster was the beneficiary at Moore Regional Hospital of quick work by a medical team that diagnosed his condition and treated him rapidly to the point where no lasting damage occurred.
Lancaster spent two days in an intensive care unit bed, the very same beds that have been regularly used these past eight months by coronavirus patients.
In support of his opposition to masks, Lancaster cites the “Great Barrington Declaration.” That document calls for protection of vulnerable populations while removing restrictions so healthy people can return to a normal day-to-day existence. It opposes lockdowns and promotes “herd immunity,” the concept of increasing infection broadly to the point of fostering immunity to the virus.
It is said to be signed by “thousands” of medical professionals over the internet, but there is no vetting process to prove a signature as authentic. Multiple news stories have now debunked many of the signatories’ veracity. The document’s development was also fostered by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian-leaning think tank funded, in part, by the conservative billionaire Charles Koch.
Lancaster’s vaunted research is dubious at best, deceitful at worst. Meanwhile, infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths connected to the coronavirus are spiking across the nation. The sheer numbers are beginning to overwhelm hospitals and doctors across the country. There but for the grace of God go we, and we’re not out of the woods.
If nothing else, Lancaster’s position not to wear a mask to protect others is embarrassing and selfish. And it is an affront to the medical professionals who saved his life just a few months ago and who spend their days in masks and have to fight the virus every day. What if Lancaster had had his stroke a few months later and couldn’t get an ICU bed because they were all full of coronavirus patients? Would his recovery have been as prompt — and successful?
This is not the kind of behavior we expect from a public servant who should, first and foremost, be willing to protect and serve the public. And that’s not just the public he agrees with politically. It’s everyone.
No, masks won’t keep you healthy, as evidenced by the news that fellow Councilman Paul Murphy and his wife fell ill recently with COVID-19. But mask wearing can limit the spread of germs. Fewer sick people means less stress on the medical providers and more opportunity to resume relatively “normal” lives.
Mitch, don’t be a knucklehead. For the sake of everyone — the sick, the elderly, those trying to stay healthy, the medical professionals who saved your life — wear a mask and move on with life.
We’re all sick of wearing masks, but not as sick if we don’t wear them at all.