Come November there will be no more conversations around wearing a mask and the COVID-19 virus will be history. This is what a well-known leader of the Seattle community believes. The human tragedy of 125,000 deaths in the U.S. due to COVID-19 are conveniently forgotten and the millions who got ill or are testing positive are not top of mind. In North Carolina, a group has launched a Burn Your Mask Challenge  to oppose Gov. Cooper’s plan to potentially mandate the wearing of masks; clearly borrowing from the ‘60s women’s liberation movement’. This is not just a political issue, it is becoming a cultural divide in our society. A cultural divide that goes beyond political beliefs, but is firmly rooted in either willful ignorance, the belief that one is immune from this virus, or moral righteousness framed around personal freedom and choice.

The Common Good

These are all valid opinions in a free and democratic society, and many justify that in a larger multi- cultural country like the USA this is bound to happen. But this free and democratic society has come together many times in the past during other crises, where individuals have put aside their personal beliefs for the common good. Robert Reich in this book The Common Good demonstrates that a common good not only exists but in fact constitutes the very essence of any society or nation. The concern for the
common good is what should be driving how we deal with the pandemic and work collectively as one country, one society, and undertake few small steps to curtail its spread and continue to save lives and livelihoods. Wearing a mask or a face covering and continuing to maintain safe physical distancing is not too much to ask.

In my book, Purpose Mindset How Microsoft Inspires Its Employees and Alumni to Change the World,  published by Harper Collins Leadership and due out in November, I share, in my last chapter, how collectively we as a society have joined together to overcome this pandemic. How small collective actions around the globe helped us survive this crisis; opened up our economies, our schools, our communities, and brought back some semblance of normalcy in our lives. George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics in the Age of Crisis, discusses the ideas of inclusive communities based on “bridging networks” which bring together people together from different backgrounds rather than “bonding networks” which bring together people from the same group or community. 

Help create communities built on altruism and cooperation

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for people to form new bridging networks to help create communities built on altruism and cooperation. We are seeing these bridging networks form as we are collectively seeking racial justice and equity. Wearing a mask or face covering and practicing physical distancing are acts of altruism and extending the common good.

We did start off in the early part of the pandemic getting mixed messaging from healthcare officials about the efficacy of wearing a mask or other face coverings. However, since then, our healthcare professionals and others have been sharing the importance of masks, including reusable cloth masks and other kinds of face coverings, to slow down the spread of the virus.  There is also now a movement within local governments, states, and cities that are now requiring the wearing of masks. Washington and California have introduced a mandate to wear masks. In the city of Somerville, a suburb of Boston MA, there is a $300 fine for people not wearing masks in public spaces. In this era of misinformation and disinformation, there are also arguments from the other side that wearing face masks offers no protection and does nothing.

Wearing face masks, face coverings, physical distancing, contact tracing and testing have led to dramatic reduction in the spread of the virus

However, there are recent studies showing the value of wearing face masks. The community use of face mask study shows that as many as 230,000-450,000 COVID-19 cases have possibly been averted by May 22, 2020 by having mandates requiring face masks. We also have examples from other countries where these practices have been followed; wearing face masks, face coverings, physical distancing, contact tracing and testing have led to dramatic reduction in the spread of the virus allowing them to successfully reopen their economies, schools and daily lives. A meta-analysis of 172 studies published in The Lancet on June 1 found that mask wearing greatly reduces the risk of viral transmission.

The responsible thing to do

I am thrilled to be part of an organization, Restart Partners, that is promoting the adoption of wearing masks, face coverings and practicing safe social distancing.  Along with Governor Jay Inslee, we launched a #WearAMaskWashington initiative where we’re encouraging everyone to share your own story of why you wear a mask and why it is important to wear a mask. Be creative, send us innovative designs of masks that can be used by people with disabilities or other medical conditions.  Send us creative graphics that can show your enthusiasm. We want you to urge your friends, neighbors, to wear a masks or face covering and practice safe physical distancing when you’re out in public; out grocery shopping, visiting family or friends, going to a restaurant.  Marc Silver a global health & development blogger at NPR has just posted his expert advice for wearing masks and exercising outdoors. Wearing masks and face coverings and practicing safe distancing is just the responsible thing to do. It is kind thing to do. It is a neighborly thing to do. It is our hope that we will see increased adoption and positive behavioral change.

Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) stated it well:

“This isn’t about politics, it’s about a pathogen. Like it or not, Covid is still spreading. PLEASE, wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.  We’re in this together.”

Dr. Tom Frieden

If we all followed these simple guidelines, we would be in a much better place in curtailing the spread of the virus and save lives and save livelihoods.