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Editorial: Wear a mask, dammit

by BAR Editorial Board

The Lookout bar and restaurant put tables on the sidewalk on Noe and 16th streets last month and drew a crowd. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The Lookout bar and restaurant put tables on the sidewalk on Noe and 16th streets last month and drew a crowd. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

In the Bay Area, while many people appear to be using face coverings when outside of their homes, there are still too many who aren't wearing them. Our own community members at times flaunt the public health measure, out of a sense of invincibility or complacency after weeks of sheltering in place. Now, four months into the pandemic, most scientists agree that covering your nose and mouth with a face mask is the best way to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Practicing physical distancing of at least six feet is also a critical prevention measure. Especially as businesses begin to reopen, it is important that we all follow the mandates issued by state and local officials to cover up when in public. Cases of coronavirus are ticking up in many parts of the state, including San Francisco and nearby counties. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has delayed further reopening, including indoor dining, and on Tuesday there was a new high in reported state cases in a single day: 9,114. The virus shows no sign of slowing.

Complacency was on full display over the Fourth of July weekend in New York, where hundreds of gay men gathered at Fire Island Pines for packed parties, many without face coverings and standing way too close together. Towleroad reported the parties attracted the attention of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and island officials. It was also reported that at least one man attended parties knowing he had COVID symptoms. Apparently, some gays just don't care.

Closer to home, not everyone in front of Castro-area eateries is wearing masks or physically distancing. While there is an urgent need for restaurants to get back to business and the desire of people to socialize, they're not going to be open for long if people continue testing positive for the virus and make people anxious about going out. In fact, in March, the National LGBT Cancer Network spearheaded a letter signed by over 100 organizations stating that LGBTQs are at greater risk from the novel coronavirus due to other social and medical issues that affect us, such as higher tobacco use than among the general population, higher rates of cancer and HIV-infection, and instances of discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity.

During recent protest marches, not all San Francisco police officers were wearing face coverings when they should be. That's why it's essential that if you're participating in an action, you should cover up — if the cops won't do their part to protect themselves and others, at least you should. The virus is transmitted via droplets or aerosols; the louder one talks or yells, the more of those droplets and aerosols are released.

Some people have been inspired to make a political statement by refusing to wear face coverings by arguing that obeying to do so is an attack on their personal liberty. That's a bogus argument and red herring that refuses to consider the medical and societal imperatives.

If enough people wear face coverings — health authorities say that number is 80% — the virus can be significantly slowed. We're not at that level right now.

In response to the AIDS epidemic, our community was presented with stark choices, too, especially in the early days. Now, medical advances allow people to make informed choices about wearing condoms, disclosing their viral load, PrEP status, and other information. But 39 years ago, wearing a condom was just about the only prevention method, and it required a lot of education in order to change sexual behavior, negotiating relationships, and values.

Coronavirus will be a problem until there's an effective vaccine. Most of us adhered to the stringent shelter-in-place orders this spring, while finding creative ways to encourage people to do the right thing (like face mask contests), but it's too bad that the message isn't sticking. As trans union leader Gabriel Haaland wrote on Facebook this week, "Wearing a mask is not an ideological test, it is a test of your compassion for others."

Wear a mask, dammit.

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