Voices | The face mask tells a story about respect as much as health

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By Del. Jon S. Cardin

Nowadays, just walking down the street, I get hypersensitive as to how others act, react and interact.


During this unprecedented and stressful time, some people show surprising consideration and respect when interacting with other people, while others seem completely oblivious. Just walking into a store or up to a curbside pickup line, I notice t

Voices A Cardin headshot
Del. Jon S. Cardin (Courtesy)

hat some people keep their distance and wear face masks but others don’t, even when required by law. In those moments, I begin to question why this is. We all want to keep ourselves safe, but why aren’t some people willing to do the bare minimum to protect those around them? This paradox of human nature should be acknowledged and my hope is that as we try to navigate this global pandemic and avoid personal tragedy, we can inspire each other to err on the side of compassion.


Science indicates that the virus can be transmitted through droplets that escape from our mouth or nose. Wearing a mask protects others by preventing droplets from attaching to communal metals, plastics and other objects (door handles, elevator buttons, glass tabletops, etc.). Wearing a mask protects those who wear it less than it protects those around them. That is to say, we wear masks to protect our aged parents, immunocompromised friends and strangers. And we hope that others will do the same for us.

Unsurprisingly, we have observed the best and the worst of people during these trying times. We should be encouraged by the respectful behavior of the person who moves aside to allow others to pass with social distance. Yet, I am wholly incredulous by the unmasked stranger, walking down the middle of the sidewalk, either totally oblivious to the discomfort they inflict on passersby or unconcerned with how their actions might impact others. Furthermore, many individuals wear their masks but do not cover their nose, which entirely defeats the purpose. Wearing your mask incorrectly is no better than not wearing one at all.

We are all equally susceptible to contracting the virus (and becoming a carrier). And until we know whether antibodies cause long-term immunity, all of us are in the same boat. Most people are civil, kind and safe while the others are either unaware or simply do not care. So why do some act out of selfishness by ignoring the science and refusing to accept our new reality? This is hard to hear but I believe Americans allow laziness and convenience to undermine safety and health.

Furthermore, we in America have a culture of entitlement that many try to translate into “freedoms and liberty.” My response to that is that our freedoms only extend as far as their ability to not interfere with the freedom of others. That is why I voted to ban indoor smoking and why I wrote the law to criminalize revenge porn. Those who violate our new social and political norms weaken collective fortitude and increase community vulnerability. People are dying because others don’t wear masks or wear them incorrectly. Ironically, once that unmasked person arrives in the ICU, I bet their opinion will change.

It takes strong leadership to inspire members of our society to transcend laziness and entitlement for the greater good, especially when the consequences of our actions are delayed, uncertain or inconsistent. This kind of leadership requires more than just a mandate to wear a mask in public. In order to encourage mask-wearing, leaders must change our mindsets — it’s about prioritizing respect and empathy. Our current leadership fails to operate under this mindset.

Each of us is one breath away from a COVID-19 infection. How difficult is it really to wear a mask, move to the side, be a good neighbor and keep your distance? Vigilance through this effort will shorten COVID-19’s life, but it means that we all must have patience and be a little inconvenienced. Personally, I would rather have small inconveniences, like wearing a mask, than suffer larger inconveniences in the future. We must be collectively determined in order to defeat this virus; it will make us all better, stronger and kinder Americans.

Jon S. Cardin represents District 11 in Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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