Jamie Belnap: Masks are a matter of life and death

Angry residents react when the Utah County Commission meeting was adjourned before it even started, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Provo, Utah. The group protesting against face masks being required in schools removed the social distancing tape on the chairs and filled the Utah County Commission room to over flowing, prompting Commissioner Tanner Ainge to call for a vote to adjourn the meeting. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

To the anti-masking parents in my Facebook feed,

I am an educator. And I’ve been listening to you for awhile now. You’re tired. I get it. You’re angry. I get that too. But it wasn’t until the statewide student mask mandate that your rage fully unfurled. Now, you’re storming city meetings. You’re saying masked children can’t get enough oxygen. Parents won’t wash masks so kids will be swimming in bacterial infections. And incredibly, masks are more harmful than the virus. (Yep, you totally said that, too).

Never mind that surgeons wear masks every day. Never mind that parents wash their kids’ underwear, socks, and lunchboxes, so why not masks?

I hear your frustration, though. These are our children. And, for better or worse, we do our best to control for idyllic childhoods, demanding more for them than any previous generation of parents.

But here’s the thing: No matter how hard we try, we cannot control for Mother Nature’s most brutal acts of defiance. Sometimes, she foils even our best-laid plans.

The statistics tell an important story: countries that require masks fare far better than those that don’t. Taiwan, an island jam-packed with 23 million people, stockpiled masks from the start. And while we have accumulated 149,000 deaths in just four months, Taiwan has seven. Nope, that’s not a misprint. Seven. Single digits.

So I ask you: If you win this fight, how many teachers are we going to lose before you change your mind? How might you feel if your own elderly parent was the bus driver or librarian?

If I’m being honest, what scares me most is your distrust for the institutions designed to hold society accountable. You don’t trust mainstream media, a term most of us didn’t give much thought before 2016. We mostly trusted the profession to investigate and report. They went to school for it, after all, and they’ve committed to ethical standards. But these days, you believe the vast majority of 33,000 U.S. journalists at 1,400 papers are lying to the masses.

This distrust has now seeped into science. You don’t believe most doctors and epidemiologists about COVID-19. Never mind they’re spending their lives studying illness. Never mind they took an oath to do no harm.

You say politics have divided us in a way that is unprecedented. I used to agree. But lately, calling it politics feels like minimization on the grandest of scales. When hundreds of former Bush administration officials endorsed Joe Biden in an effort to “restore the soul of this nation,” I felt something click. This isn’t about politics anymore. Our country is at risk of losing its soul.

Recently, Donald Trump threatened the tax-exempt status of universities if they continue the “propaganda” of “radical left indoctrination.” I felt my heart sink. Like usual, these comments were initially met with scoffs and eye-rolls.

But if history really does repeat itself, the talking heads who sound a lot smarter than he does will begin rolling it over the airwaves in bits and pieces. And before long, Trump’s newest idea won’t sound like the ramblings of the crazy relative you brush off at family reunions.

Is higher education the next victim of citizen distrust? If so, may God help us all.

You have said we have to get on with life. I agree. But we are not spoiled children. We cannot wish this virus away by pretending it doesn’t exist. And we most certainly cannot have our cake and eat it, too. If we want to resume in-person interactions, we have to protect each other. And I’m willing to bet the children, grandchildren, and friends of the 140,000 victims would agree.

You keep asking, “When will this end?” It will end when there is a vaccine. And, no, you don’t have to remind me you will not be getting the vaccine. I already know. So maybe I should say this will end when enough of the rest of us get it so that you and your family can be safe, alongside ours.

I ask you: What if you’re wrong? The way I see it, if scientists are wrong about masks, the worst case is some dreaded infections from dirty masks. Historically, kids have endured far worse in times of distress.

But if you’re wrong, the consequences are a matter of life, and unfortunately, death. So please, can we call it quits with the tantrums and have some faith in our kids? I have a feeling they’ll surprise us.

Jamie Belnap

Jamie Belnap is a high school counselor. She lives in the Heber valley with her husband and four children.