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I love life and liberty, and wearing a mask protects both

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Shoppers wear masks at City Creek Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 26, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

My name is Dan and I’m addicted to politics. I’m a member of the Utah State Legislature. I’m used to everything being, well, political. Guns. Taxes. Education. I see politics in almost everything. It’s a disease. 

Honestly, I am surprised by the politics of mask wearing. I’m especially surprised by how downright divisive it has become.  

There seems to be two extreme camps in this battle:

Camp one: The anti-maskers. For them, being mask-free is a statement of “to heck with the government.” A sort of go-for-broke love of liberty and opposition to being told what to do.

Camp two: The militant maskers. For them, masking is a signal of their enlightenment. A way to show how “woke” they are in contrast to others in the neighborhood market or alone in their car. 

People in either camp won’t likely change their behavior in the immediate future, but what about all of the rest of us? What should we do?  

As a conservative, I love both liberty and life. And by life, I mean I have run bills limiting abortion and I have also supported efforts to limit Utah’s death penalty.

The lives I love and cherish most are the ones in my immediate family — my wife, my children and my parents. I also love my neighbor who has multiple sclerosis, and the elderly woman who works in the produce section of my grocery store, and the man who works on my car. I don’t want to see any of them lose their job, their health or their lives due to COVID-19.

I also love evidence-based decisions. While the evidence is still evolving, the current best information suggests that if two people are together, and one is contagious with COVID-19, then this is what mask-wearing does: If a healthy person is wearing a mask and the COVID-19 carrier isn’t wearing a mask there is a 60-75% chance the virus spreads.

If that same COVID-19 carrier wears a mask, the probability of the virus spreading drops by as much as another 40%, even if the healthy person isn’t wearing a mask. But if both the COVID-19 carrier and the healthy person wear a mask, there is only a 1% chance the virus will spread between them. 

And since many — perhaps most — people carrying the COVID-19 virus have no symptoms, none of us knows for sure if we are currently a risk to other people.

As a conservative, I really hate waste — wasted dollars on health care, wasted time on treatments and care that could have been saved for something else, wasted styrofoam cups (because I can’t refill them at Maverik).

A reasonable estimate for a 10-day ICU stay on a ventilator for a patient with severe COVID-19 is in the $100,000 range. Those with moderate to mild cases obviously cost much less.  

To me, wearing a mask is the conservative thing to do. It is a simple, easy way to love my family, my friends and neighbors.

There are some indications now that even moderate to mild patients can suffer long-term symptoms for several months and can even require regular home oxygen therapy. Think about it. All of the doctor visits, ER visits, oxygen and home medical supplies. It all adds up. 

To me, wearing a mask is the conservative thing to do. It is a simple, easy way to love my family, my friends and neighbors. It is a rational choice based on the evidence — and it is also fiscally responsible; it is the least expensive way to keep COVID-19 hospital admissions down. 

When we spend less on health care, we keep premiums down and leave more money in the hands of those who earn it. 

This virus has already cost Utah in the form of historically high levels of unemployment and literally billions of dollars of economic impact. This year, the governor has called lawmakers into a special session twice in the last three months to make painful budget adjustments to critical services — all as a direct result of COVID-19.

South Korea made mask-wearing mandatory and they have successfully and dramatically curbed transmissions. Now the ultimate question, how do we get more mask wearing and avoid a mandate?

I believe wearing a mask is a simple, personal choice. For our community. For our families. For ourselves. Because we choose to do so.   

Plus, if wearing masks get this economy back to full speed sooner rather than later, we’ll all be better off. 

So, let’s leave the other two camps and start a third camp in this political mask debate. Let’s call it the “I love life and liberty and I choose to protect both by wearing a mask.” 

A purple mask. A camo mask. A BYU mask. Heck, even a U of U mask (but try to find a replacement quickly). You do you. And I’ll do me. Together, we’ll show the power of choice and accountability and avoid a mandate.

Sen. Dan McCay represents District 11 in the Utah Legislature.