Tribune Editorial: Want to reopen Utah? Wear a mask.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People wearing masks on Main Street in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Mask wearing is recommended during the current orange phase of Utah's COVID-19 effort in Salt Lake City.

“Hell is other people.”

— Jean-Paul Sartre

The idea that being told to wear a face mask during a global pandemic — a pandemic that is becoming less global and more American by the day — is somehow unconstitutional, oppressive or Nazi-like is absurd in the extreme.

Extreme as in deadly.

All of us, in Utah and across the nation, should wear one whenever we are out in public. Anyone who cares at all about family, friends and humanity in general should do so without having to be told.

But now, public officials are telling us. At least in Salt Lake and Summit counties, where the virus seems strongest. In fact, they should be worn everywhere.

Businesses that truly care about both their customers and their employees — such as Costco and, now, Harmons Grocery — require masks. So will Brigham Young University when it reopens in the fall.

Politicians who argue that masks are an impediment to their freedom — who will not be done the honor of being named here — are wrong and may literally be causing the death of innocent people.

Yes, looking back, it does seem that the smart people were slow to come to the conclusion that masks were useful in containing the spread of COVID-19. Not just useful, but also the best, cheapest and actually least intrusive step we can take while we wait for someone to develop an effective vaccine.

It is the nature of science to avoid jumping to conclusions. That’s part of what sets it apart from politics.

Public health experts were also understandably concerned that if everyone started snarfing up hospital-grade masks for themselves there wouldn’t be enough for the health care providers who most needed them.

But now the best available advice is that wearing simple cloth masks is the best way to stop the transmission of the potentially deadly coronavirus from one person to another. And isn’t that what all of us want?

If you want to restart the economy, reopen businesses, reduce unemployment, avoid evictions and foreclosures and get the kids back to school, it’s the best trick we have right now.

What some loud people seem to be willfully ignorant of is that wearing a mask is not about protecting yourself. It is about protecting the other person you walk by. And all the people that person walks by. And all the people those people walk by or sit next to or go home to.

It is a way to deal with the most maddening quirk of the COVID-19 virus, the fact that people — especially the young, healthy and, in their own minds, invulnerable — can walk around totally unaware that they have been infected, all the while spreading the contagion to those much more at risk due to age, obesity or other medical conditions.

Or perhaps those protesting the order do understand all that and still deeply resent the suggestion that any one of us, or of them, should endure the smallest inconvenience in order to save the lives of loved ones, perfect strangers and everyone in between.

That is a particularly awful argument for this sort of “freedom.”

If anything, the order from Gov. Gary Herbert that masks be worn in public in two of the state’s more urban counties was late and far too half-hearted.

It should have come sooner, covered more counties, if not the whole state, and shouldn’t have required lobbying from Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, among others, before it happened.

The most basic function of government is to keep its people safe. In this case, from a deadly virus that was diagnosed in a record 676 more Utahns in Friday’s count.

Wear a mask.