Marina Gomberg: Without a mask mandate, too many of us aren’t free

The Utah Legislature does away with mask mandates, just when I am at my most vulnerable.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

Editor’s note This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

I am going to preface this column by acknowledging the high dose of steroids rocketing through my veins right now. They make my heart pump with the fervor of 40 Richard Simmonses (and there’s likely an equal amount of sweat involved, though fewer curls and short shorts).

Best wishes to all in the vicinity.

I am on this monster-inducing drug called prednisone, because my immune system is a spastic gal who turns on herself when she’s fussy. And she’s really fussy.

Lucky for me, though, along with the rage, insatiable hunger, skin-crawling, weight gain and heart-pounding, the meds also absolutely crush my immunity. Just so much to offer!

I need the immunity taming because after enjoying a couple weeks of remission, my relapsing polychondritis reared its ugly head last week and set fire to mine. Searing inflammatory destruction in my ear spread to my head, neck, throat and down.

As I waited to see my rheumatologist last Friday, who ultimately prescribed the dreaded prednisone (aka the devil’s Tic Tacs), the Legislature voted to overturn the mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Masked lawmakers cross through a "Fist Bump Zone" as the Utah Legislature starts is 2022 session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. One of the first orders of business was a vote to overturn mask orders issued by public health officials in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

This means that while the pandemic rampages through our state with unprecedented fury and I’m at my most vulnerable, my state leaders chose to prioritize folks’ freedom to be a threat to people like me.

Does that sound dramatic? IT’S BECAUSE IT IS! And I am!

We live in a society, not a vacuum, friends. And while I’m a devoted civil liberties fan, I honor the boundary of any person’s freedom when it butts up against someone else’s ability to also exist freely.

It’s why we have speed limits, speech limitations, discrimination protections, noise ordinances, vaccination requirements, accessibility requirements and the like. We’ve decided to share a set of standards to ensure we maximize choice and possibility without compromising safety or access.

Yeah, sometimes it’s an inconvenience — but drag or not, it’s vital to living in a community. And it’s a really beautiful thing.

However, without required caution standards around this virus that has killed millions worldwide over the last two years, people like me aren’t free to move safely in the public sphere. Our protection is a team sport, and our leaders just changed the rules of the game to be each person for themself.

I know we can do better.

As Utahns, we have a proven track record of achieving the most delicate balances around freedom and protection. It’s the Utah way. We’re practically national heroes because of it — and rightly so.

We dig deep, we establish our common priorities and we figure out a way to see humanity through the haze of disagreement and competing values.

Let’s employ this legislative prowess in our pandemic response (no steroids required for this flex).

Please don’t MAKE ME ASK TWICE! Ahem. I mean, thanks for your stalwart efforts at showing care for our most vulnerable.

Marina Gomberg is a professional communicator, a practicing optimist and a lover of love. She lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.