A few weeks ago, the Miami Herald carried a report that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said parents could opt out of having their children wear masks in school, despite high COVID-19 numbers in Florida. While we Americans value our freedoms, there are times when the public’s good should trump that of the individual.
Most children and adults would much prefer not to wear a mask. But mask wearing is not related to enjoyment but rather protecting health. Numerous scientific studies have shown that using masks reduces the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. Even under non-pandemic situations, surgeons wear masks, and physicians and medical staff working with communicable diseases also do so. Many Americans and those in other countries want to opt out of COVID-19 vaccinations, yet it’s clear that infections spread and hospitalizations and deaths are significantly higher in unvaccinated individuals.
Some parents report that their kids refuse to wear masks. I find that amusing and in the same class when I was a of young parent and other parents claimed they just couldn’t get their kids to wear seat belts in vehicles. I vividly remember driving a preschool carpool; if you ever drove one, you too will remember it. One of the children wouldn’t wear his seat belt for his mother, but eventually he learned that in my carpool, the car wouldn’t move unless his belt was fastened.
Seat belts did not become mandatory in West Virginia until 1993. Opposition to seat belts here and in other states was strong. The History Channel reports that when seat belt laws were introduced in Michigan in the early 1980s, one legislator compared the sponsor of the bill to Hitler and a member of the Michigan’s state house called such laws “a pretty good lesson in mass hysteria created by a corporate-controlled media.” Perhaps, Yogi Berra, the famous Yankee baseball player’s reputed comment, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” fits current attitudes toward mandated health and safety measures.
Most of us would be delighted if we could opt out of TSA pre-flight searches. It’s bad enough that our carry-ons are viewed and rummaged through, often messing up carefully packed items, and that passengers are required to step through devices that can see through your clothing. If you fly often enough you will find yourself subject to pat-downs and electronic body searches even if you are old or handicapped.
Yet, Americans have learned to accept these individual intrusions into our lives for the good of the public. The 9/11 terrorists made it clear that we are all in this together. Opting out of screening those who fly on commercial aircraft is unpleasant but could be lifesaving.
When traveling on highways, it’s annoying to find restrictive speed limits; many people would like to, and essentially do, opt out of 50 mph limits in construction zones. They feel this impinges on their freedom to enjoy driving, regardless of the fact that the law is to protect highway workers, many whom have been injured or killed in work zones.
Opting out of measures to protect others’ health and safety often appeals to our sense of individualism, but it is not beneficial for the public.