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‘What if someone died:’ Why one mask-resister changed his mind

In the past few months, we’ve all formed opinions about wearing a mask in public.

Public health experts believe face coverings are an important tool we can use to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most people decided to wear one. Some decided against it for various reasons.

And still others changed their minds.

We talked to a Pierce County man who explained to us why he didn’t want to mask up—and why he eventually decided he should.

‘It was getting under my skin.’

The man we talked to didn’t want to be identified. We’ll call him Stan.

Stan began paying attention to the pandemic when it was spreading in Wuhan, China.

“I thought, ‘It’s probably gonna come here,’ but then I thought ‘eh, it’s another virus, and we’ll handle it,’” he said. “Then all the sudden it’s in Kirkland, and one thing leads to another, and then it’s the shutdown, and that whole thing kind of ticks you off.”

Stan said evolving guidance on masks bothered him, as did various retailers mandating face coverings before Gov. Inslee did. He didn’t want to wear a mask and found himself disagreeing with family members who thought he should. He thought about canceling his membership to a store he frequents.

“I was saying ‘This is ridiculous! Masks? Really?’” he said. “It was really getting under my skin.”

‘How hard do I want to make their job?’

A trip to the grocery store helped change his mind. He’s a regular there and knows many of the checkers. He thought about how they’re at risk all day, and how he didn’t want to make their jobs more difficult.

“I finally realized I didn’t really care if it worked or not,” he said. “I knew it was some protection, but the biggest thing was I didn’t want to be the one to get in a confrontation. I didn’t want anyone to have to ask me to wear a mask. The workers are just doing their jobs. They have to wear a mask. I’m in their store. I don’t want to get called out or get in a confrontation with other shoppers. How hard do I want to make this?”

‘What if they contact trace you and you find out someone died?’

Stan understands why people don’t want to wear masks. He still finds face covering annoying and the mandate intrusive.

At the same time, he believes COVID-19 poses a danger and doesn’t want to be responsible for making someone else sick.

“I get it. People are tired of hearing about it. They just want to get on with their business and get their work done and you can’t blame them. They’re Americans, and they’re standing up for their rights,” he said. “But do you really want to be the person who gets a phone call, and they contact trace you and you find out someone died? Why would I want to put myself in that position if I can help it?”

Stan said he’s at peace with his decision.

“My level of ‘get off my lawn’ kind of dissipated,” he said. “It’s a matter of being courteous and being mindful. Do I want to be upset the whole time? Be mad at everyone? Mad at the government? I’m kind of past that point.”

As the months have gone by, Stan says he’s no longer wrestling with COVID anymore but embracing compassion. He’s also glad to report he has stayed well.

“I realize, it’s not all about me. It’s about those around me. Why do I want to be upset, when I’m just being asked to help out? Maybe a mask protects me, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it protects others, maybe it doesn’t. You never know at what point, if you stand your stubborn ground, and you make someone sick—or someone makes you sick—and then someone’s on a respirator, fighting for their life. Are my rights worth that? If I can help avoid that for myself or someone else, what does it hurt? It might just help.

“After all, it’s only a mask.”

Small action. Big difference. Mask up, Pierce County.

Mask up, Pierce County.

We conducted a field survey over the summer that found 77% of people in Pierce County wearing masks when required. Things might be improving. A more recent poll found 79% of people in Washington said they always wear masks when required, and 18% sometimes do.

We must do better. Studies show masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19. In particular, they can help keep you from transmitting the virus if you are ill and not yet showing symptoms.

We are seeing cases rise again, even as we begin flu season. It’s important you:

To learn tips on how to gather safely this holiday season see our Safe Gatherings webpage

Learn more at tpchd.org/coronavirus.