Not Wearing a Mask Is 'the New Smoking'

During COVID-19, your exhale can kill people faster than second-hand smoke.

Posted Jul 02, 2020

Two decades ago, most restaurants in the U.S. allowed cigarette smoking. If you ate in a smoky restaurant, you probably couldn’t taste your food as well as you might like. If you worked in a smoky restaurant, you probably increased your chances of getting lung cancer. Over time, public action took place, especially by seeking health protections for restaurant workers. Now, most restaurants do not allow smoking. The majority of Americans are happy that we don’t have smoking in restaurants and other public places now. 

One decade ago, medical professionals began suggesting that “sitting is the new smoking.” Sitting for hours at a time does appear to be somewhat bad for you. But it won't kill you in a matter of days the way COVID-19 can. We need to follow the lessons from other countries that have successfully brought their coronavirus infection rate down to low levels. A key preventative measure—among many that work best when combined—is simply wearing a face-covering when in public. We need to make wearing a mask when you’re in a public place as common as not smoking in restaurants and shops. We need to treat not wearing a mask in public as “the new smoking.”

Right now in the U.S., while COVID-19 is spreading rampantly, when you walk into a public place not wearing a mask, you are endangering other people’s lives. Would you walk into your local grocery store smoking a cigarette? Of course not. Then, during this pandemic, why would you walk in there without a mask? You genuinely could be infected with coronavirus right now and just not know it because you aren’t feeling symptoms yet. Walking into a public place without a mask will spread that virus everywhere, infecting people you know and people you don’t know, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, indiscriminately. This novel coronavirus is not treating this situation as political. And neither should you.

In California, Fresno County (population 1 million) is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. So much so that it currently has more total cases of COVID-19 infection than the much larger Sacramento County (population 1.5 million). In Nebraska, Dakota County (population 20,000) has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the entire state (second only to Douglas county, population 571,000). And get this: Arizona (with its 7 million people) reported more new COVID-19 cases yesterday than all of Europe did (with its 446 million people).

If your state has a mandate for face-coverings, but the essential business you work at is not enforcing it, then your managers could be endangering your life. You can contact your local office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration and let them know.

Or if your county sheriff openly stated that he/she refuses to enforce state mandates that reduce the spread of coronavirus—as did the Merced County sheriff in California and the Lewis County and Klickitat County sheriffs in Washington state—then you can let your state governor know that you won’t stand for a sheriff that won’t uphold the law. (Sadly, that will probably not work in Nebraska, where the governor himself has stated that any county or city that tries to impose a face-coverings mandate will have its COVID-19 relief funding removed!)

The world is watching, Americans. Other nations have brought down their COVID-19 cases, but America’s case count is already rising again. In April, the U.S. imposed measures that flattened the curve but didn't yet bring the curve downward. Then, many local governments removed those measures and fully reopened businesses. That’s like the proverbial man with an umbrella in a rainstorm who says to himself, “I’m not getting wet. What do I need this thing for?” So, he closes it up and then is shocked to find himself suddenly getting wet. 

We need to get it together and show the rest of the world that the American Experiment is not a failure. Essential workers at essential business (such as grocery stores and public offices) are in the line of fire. They are our friends. They are our family. They are part of us. And it is our duty to protect them as much as they are protecting us. Other people refusing to wear a mask at work or at the grocery store increases the risk to their lives. 

When it comes down to it, humanity is really just one big organism (Spivey, 2020). We are not just ourselves. We are part of our family. We are part of the community we live in. We are all densely interconnected (Valencia & Froese, 2020). That connectivity is proven more profoundly than ever by the spread of this pandemic. 

When we don’t take care of one another, and we let our community down, that attitude spreads like a mental virus. We need to cooperate. We can’t be fighting amongst ourselves when we need to be fighting as one against a virus that is trying its damnedest to kill us. Perhaps Americans can come together again to treat the refusal to wear a face-covering as “the new smoking,” and thereby save lives everywhere.