To The Editor:

Can you have absolute freedom in a civilized society? Let us look at a few examples.

Some states require motorcycle riders to wear helmets. The proponents of the law say it simply protects the rider from injury or worse in the event of an accident, and accidents will happen. The opponents argue on the other hand that they should have the freedom or liberty to take a chance on bashing their brains against the pavement. After all, the risk of harm is theirs to manage. So the debate goes on in the legislatures, and they either pass the law or not. As to the bare­headed riders who survive their accidents, though, I sympathize with the insurance ratepayers or the taxpayers, as the case may be, who must pay the medical and paraplegic expenses. Someone has to settle the bill.

Take a different example. Traffic lights glow either yellow, green, or red. If someone runs a red light or collides in an intersection, usually the only question is what color the light was. No one seriously argues there should not be a traffic light in the first place. There is no Constitutional right to run a red light. There it shines, compelling us to stop the vehicle when we much prefer not to. We would like to be free not to stop. Have the liberty not to stop. But we stop. I suspect when Henry Ford put his second car on the road, someone thought up the idea of traffic signals so we would not end up banging into each other willy-nilly. We readily gave up a little liberty so we can all drive on the public roads.

So what about wearing masks in the COVID-19 pandemic? Masks absorb the virus-laden aerosols that spew out when infected wearers cough, talk, shout, cheer, sing, and the like. They might even screen out the other fellow's virus before you would otherwise breathe it in. Hence the mask effectively lessens the risk of transmitting virus from one person to another through the air. What is the argument against wearing masks in public during the pandemic? The requirement to wear masks in public infringes upon freedom and liberty. Like wearing a motorcycle helmet.

Wearing a mask makes little sense unless there are at least two of you pretty close together. In that way it is kind of like the traffic light. With the traffic light you accept a little less freedom amongst other drivers in exchange for driving safely. Comparing the minuscule inconvenience of wearing the mask against the unspeakable horror of gasping for breath until your lungs turn into pudding, I suggest we wear the mask amongst others. I suggest that public officials mandate everyone to wear a mask in public. It makes every bit as much sense as using traffic lights.

Which brings us around to Trump. We worry about parks and swimming pools and movie houses where people mingle together. Many states order masks in such places. Consider the Trump rally that you see on television. Thousands of people jostling together shoulder-to-shoulder, few wearing masks, and all of them excited, breathing hard, and shouting. Inevitably someone in that crowd will be shedding virus, and the rally will spread the virus. A certain percentage of the infected will get sick, and a certain percentage of the sick ones will die. Trump could easily require his rally-goers to mask up, but he refuses to do so. The resulting deaths are his responsibility.

The people attending the rallies assert their freedom, their liberty, to decline the mask. The risk is theirs to take, they contend. So be it, and let them also take the consequence. As to the attendees who have families, however, I sympathize with their parents and grandparents who will catch the disease. Why should they settle the bill for someone else's recklessness?

Sincerely,

William C. Martin, Jackson