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Pride and liberty are making us sick


Six months into this pandemic, it has become tragically clear that the coronavirus has no understanding of or regard for American exceptionalism.

Other nations have seen the spike and fall that we were told to expect last spring, and they’re now bracing for the possibility of a second wave in the fall. We had the same kind of spike, but no fall.

There are many reasons for that, including some that may be out of our control. We’ll learn much more after the pandemic is over, when experts can view the event in its entirety and have a better understanding of the virus.

But there’s no denying we’ve done a lousy job on the stuff that we can control.

Based on the limited knowledge we have now, the best way to stop the virus from spreading is to stay home as much as possible; maintain distance from others and wear a facemask when we do go out; and then wash our hands as soon as we get back home. Those are the steps people in other countries have taken to control the virus.

We decided that those measures were bad for business, which they most certainly were. But beyond that, some of us also decided that they were also un-American. They were violations of the freedoms and liberties that we cherish and hold so dear.

A popular video in the early days of the pandemic showed a Costco store clerk taking a full cart away from a customer who refused to wear a facemask. “I won’t do it because I woke up in a free country,” the man explained.

I can understand the economic argument that led our leaders to reopen businesses too soon. But I’m having a more difficult time understanding the argument that the Bill of Rights somehow offers unique protections against a virus.

To deal with those few local residents who refuse to wear masks in public, the City of Las Cruces has passed a new ordinance requiring them. The new law puts the onus on business owners, who can be fined for each person in their shop not wearing a facemask.

That would seem to conflict with the current push for police reform, which suggests that not every problem should be solved by someone armed with a pistol, taser and nightstick. This will give police one more issue to deal with that doesn’t fall into the category of crime solving and prevention.

Codes officers will be able to assist with enforcement, according to Deputy Las Cruces Police Chief Miguel Dominguez. Fines are $100 for each person not in compliance, up to $500 per incident.

My guess is this will be similar to when no-smoking laws first went into effect. Police will issue a lot more warnings than actual citations. Some business owners may take a stand to make a point, but that will get expensive. Before long, masks will become the norm, just like going outside to smoke is now.

Like most people, I don’t like wearing a facemask. They’re hot and they make my glasses fog when I breathe. They’re another reason not to go out unless I must.

I don’t wear one to make a political statement, and having one on does not make me feel morally superior to anyone. I eagerly look forward to the day when they won’t be needed.

But with death rates climbing every day and no better solution available, facemasks are one of the few tools we have. It can’t be an individual choice. Only a collective effort will be effective.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.