GOVERNOR HUTCHINSON: Not too proud to wear a mask. Brian Chilson

Max noted in an earlier post the backlash against the mask mandate issued by Governor Hutchinson by sheriffs and legislators who don’t want to be dictated to on matters of public health.

For example: State Rep. Bob Ballinger of Berryville: “We’re surrendering our constitutional rights” if we obey the mandate. Or Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell: “We live in a democracy and we have a written constitution to follow and I will uphold my oath of office and not infringe on a persons constitutional rights.” Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer says he hasn’t got time to enforce the mandate and he will “fight to protect our rights.” And throw in Marshall Police Chief Long Holland: “These mandates by government are killing our economy all over this country and until people in positions of authority stand up and say enough is enough we are going to become a failed communist state.” And comes state Rep. Mary Bentley, who proclaims “mandates are not necessary nor are they what our founding fathers fought for.” The Texarkana, Ark., Police Department says it, too, will pay no attention to the law. Heck, only two people have died in Miller County.

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Who can fathom the resistance to wearing a mask to protect people from a terrible disease that has left 353 Arkansans dead and put a total of 2,135 Arkansans in the hospital to fight for their lives? Why, when scientific research tells us that most of those who’ve been hospitalized will suffer for many months with one symptom or another, and others will suffer permanent damage to heart or lungs?

Why politicize the simple act of putting on a face-covering so you keep your possibly infected snot to yourself instead of spreading it to the elderly, to people with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable, to people you mistakenly assume because of their age or appearance won’t get sick but who actually have compromised immune systems?

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And yet, there is disbelief in this incredibly infectious disease that we have no resistance to, that has killed nearly 140,000 and infected 3.6 million Americans, among the paranoid who see the whole crisis as some sort of political hoax being foisted on them, the filling boneyards be damned. Which is why there is a mask mandate.

For those worried that that the governor and the health department are trouncing on their rights, consider this: Tuberculosis. The state, to protect people from this communicable disease, has given health officers the right to require someone who will not submit to a TB test to be “apprehended and detained for the necessary tests and examinations.” The state may force a quarantine — and it has, in the case of COVID-19 cases, had to exercise that right by calling in local law enforcement.

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Why was the law put in place? To protect people from contracting tuberculosis. Tuberculosis, it should be noted, is curable. COVID-19 is survivable, but not curable.

Should Ballinger, for example, go off the rails because the state has the right to protect him from being infected with tuberculosis? Or should he instead consult the ACHI webpage on the infection rate in Berryville, where he hails from, where according to ACHI figures 1.64 out of 100 people have tested positive for COVID-19? Should Sheriff Bell tell the families of the two people who’ve died in his county, where there are 29 active cases right now, that he wishes people around their loved ones had worn a mask but he sure wouldn’t have stopped those folks from exercising their constitutional right to go maskless?

Asked today after his last COVID-19 update with Governor Hutchinson what he would say to law enforcement officers who bristle at the mask mandate, outgoing Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said this:

“I understand their need to prioritize. And I’m not going to say that being ‘mask police’ is as important as stopping murderers. But from the very beginning we’ve been trying to talk about this from a public health standpoint. We’re not asking people to do something that is not in their best interest to begin with.

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“Healthy societies that have survived and thrived were not just looking out for their own interests, they were looking out for their neighbors, and especially the people who are most vulnerable. In most faith traditions, there is this element in considering the needs of others at least as important as your own. That seems to have gotten lost a lot in this focus on individual rights.

“We’re not asking people to do something that is all that hard or is not in their own collective interest. We’re asking them to do something that will help their own communities.

“And I think there is confusion out there. The science clearly points to the value of masks not so much as protecting me, but in source control to keep us from infecting one another. There’s not really a question on the science. You get on social media sometimes that’s played up, ‘they don’t work’ … .

“And then there’s this issue of rights. ‘No one is going to tell me what to do.’ We need to get beyond that. With COVID-19, there’s no us and them. It’s all us. If there’s a them, it’s the virus. We’ve got to work together to survive this.”

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