Sunday, August 1, 2021



The Howard County Schools announced this week that they will require masks to be worn in school buildings and on buses for everyone regardless of vaccination status. There is a reason for this. 

We don’t have universal vaccination. We now know that the virus can be spread by the vaccinated, even though they themselves are largely protected from severe illness/hospitalization/death. We also don’t have a giant wall around Howard County to keep out the unvaccinated or the ill. We don’t prohibit travel to other less-vaccinated locations.

So the virus keeps spreading. And mutating. 

This is not over, in fact, it is far from over. We are still learning about how the virus operates, what happens when it mutates, what its long-term effects are. Yes, it is a “novel” coronavirus. New. We haven’t seen it before, haven’t been down this road before, and scientists are doing what scientists do: learning as they go.

Remember the folks who believe that school is valid only if it is in person? You might think that they are overjoyed that an in-person school year is approaching. No, they are angry that the school system is requiring masks. The reason for many seems to be that it will violate their personal beliefs or override their personal autonomy. 

Wearing masks is not anyone’s first choice. But there’s nothing really personal about it. The word I’m look for here is public.

(Taken from Merriam Webster online dictionary)

Public health. Public Schools. In a time of a pandemic the choices we make affect everyone around us. We do not exist in a vacuum. Public institutions are making decisions with the well-being of the greater community in mind. 

It is difficult for everyone.

Every individual has their own personal story, their own needs, wants, and challenges. But, as we experience life, we weigh all that against the needs of others: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the people in our communities. We live individual lives which are buoyed up by our inter-connectedness with the lives of others. 

There is no escaping that reality for the convenience of the “personal choice” to not wear a mask in a pandemic. And why would one want to? The repudiation of inter-connectedness is the refusal of community. It is a choice to be “left alone.”

Completely, totally, utterly alone.

No public schools, no hospitals and health care, no public gatherings. We can’t have it both ways. Maybe we would like to, but, we just can’t. You may say yes. COVID says no.

How do we balance a strong sense that our country’s democracy champions personal freedom with the notion that we must sometimes do things we don’t feel like doing to support the common good? For some people that is really, really, hard. And I suspect that nothing I will say here will make any difference to them.

So I can speak only for myself. The phrase “e pluribus unum” is the official motto of the United States of America. It means “out of many, one”. We take all our personal desires and hardships and come together to create a “one-ness” or country that is worth believing in and working for. 

We can’t have that if our individual choices are causing people to be sick or permanently disabled or dead. It’s that simple. The story isn’t about masks. It’s about caring for our neighbors and ourselves. 

Our children are going back to school. Let’s make their return to “public life” full of as much joy as we possibly can.

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