Paul Gibbs: Anti-maskers infringe on the freedom of everyone else

Those with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People fill the room as the Salt Lake County Council voted down Dr. Angela Dunn's mask ordinance for K-6 students, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.

Does one party have the right to do whatever they want at the expense of another’s freedom and safety? This question must be asked given the current prohibition on school mask mandates from the Utah Legislature and the Salt Lake County Council’s decision to overturn such a mandate from county health officials.

Opponents of mask mandates insist such rules infringe upon their freedom. But in refusing to follow rules which protect public health, and therefore becoming a threat to it, the anti-maskers infringe upon the freedom of everyone else. In particular, upon some of the most frequently ignored members of society: the disabled and chronically ill and their families.

As a kidney transplant patient, I have a compromised immune system due to the medications which prevent rejection of my transplanted kidney. This makes me high-risk for COVID, and it’s uncertain whether my vaccination has helped. While I recently received the third dose approved for immunocompromised patients, even that is only shown by studies to be moderately effective.

This means that I have to be far more careful than most and, during times like this when we’re experiencing a surge, it means rarely leaving home. This is difficult for me, but it’s even harder for my kids.

My 5-year-old son, Timmy, has much to offer the world and, at his age, the world has so much to offer him. But instead of having the adventure of beginning kindergarten alongside children his age, he’s staying home to be taught by his Dad.

Keeping Timmy home has been among the most difficult and agonizing decisions of my life. I didn’t make it for me, I made it for him and his little brother Peter. My wife and I were left with a choice between Timmy’s need to get out and grow by experiencing kindergarten with other children, and the need he and Peter have to grow up with a father to take care of them.

This choice may not have been so stark if school districts had the option of imposing mask mandates. Sure, Timmy could have worn a mask but, as any of us who’ve been paying attention know, that offers limited protection unless the people around him are also masked.

Without health departments having authority to impose mask mandates without the agreement of elected officials, an unfair burden is imposed upon most disabled or chronically ill people, at least those who fall into high-risk categories. Essentially, we’re free to choose between the extremes of modified quarantine and likely exposure to a virus which is likely to hit us very hard.

While those who oppose mask mandates argue that they shouldn’t be restricted or penalized because of our concerns or medical conditions, I would argue that those of us following legitimate medical science shouldn’t be restricted or penalized because of their extremist political agenda and unwillingness to accept facts.

Because of elected officials who have chosen to cater to extremists, the rest of us are denied the freedom to move forward.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Gibbs) | Paul Gibbs and his then-3-year-old son, Timothy, at the Rally Against Repeal on the first day of the 2019 legislative session at the Utah State Capitol

Paul Gibbs is an independent filmmaker and health care activist and, most importantly, the father of two wonderful little boys. Paul lives with his wife and his sons in West Valley City.