Paul Silva

Paul Silva

Well, it’s come down to this: mask up or pay up.

Last week, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted to require the wearing of masks in all public places to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 140,000 Americans and sickened thousands more.

The city has contracted code enforcement officers to police public areas, with a fine of $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $350 for the third.

I wholehearted agree with the council regarding this emergency order. The facts are these: As a nation, we never flattened the curve. Cases and deaths are still rising in many states. There is no fully effective treatment for COVID-19 and no vaccine.

No country has dodged this virus, but those who have saved the most lives and been able to shorten their lockdowns are those who took this crisis deadly seriously on a national level as soon as the pandemic became apparent.

Not us.

The United States represents 4.25% of the world’s population but approximately 25% of all coronavirus cases. As of early this week, 607,746 people had died from COVID-19 around the world, and 140,855 of them were Americans, according to the COVID-19 dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

If you are tired of the rolling lockdowns, and don’t want to wear a mask, the main focus of your frustration shouldn’t be the Manhattan Beach City Council, the County of Los Angeles or even the state leaders in Sacramento.

Your ire should be directed at the White House and an administration that downplayed the dangers of this pandemic early and often. After more than four months of this crisis, “everyone who wants a test can get a test” is still not true, healthcare workers are still reusing masks, there is no consistent national message or standard about social distancing, and no nationally coordinated testing and tracing strategy.

Pandemics require putting the nation on a war footing, with a commander in chief leading the charge. It’s as if, after Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt just told the states to do whatever they thought was best to guard against an invasion from the Japanese.

Even if the federal response had been anything close to adequate, ultimately we all have to be soldiers in this fight. My wife and I have been pretty vigilant in protecting ourselves and others. We have been using curbside pick-up for most groceries and been wearing masks when we do go into stores. 

We have not been inside anyone else’s house other than to bring supplies to our respective parents. Despite all the open air dining options, we have not eaten out since the pandemic began and we have no plans to, but we do regularly pick up food from local restaurants.

As diligent as we have been, I have been appalled by others who are not so conscientious. When indoor dining was first banned, I made our weekly run to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Redondo Beach.

Inside, people waiting for their to-go orders were all correctly social distanced and wearing masks, except for one women, who sauntered into the place with a bare face, complained when told her order wasn’t ready. She didn’t blink an eye when she saw a dozen sets of other eyes glaring at her over the tops of masks.

But lest you think this column is one of my usual high-handed liberal diatribes, I have a confession to make: I have not been wearing a mask when I go for a walk or a run. The thought of exercising with my mouth and nose covered has just seemed awful.

I do take precautions on my run. I stay off The Strand and the greenbelt, sticking to the streets and usually running on the side of the road. If I see another runner or walker coming, I cross the street. My minimum passing buffer space is about 15 feet.

Still, as the pandemic has worn on, I have seen more and more of my fellow runners wearing masks. On many mornings, I find myself wondering: Am I the woman in the Chinese restaurant, selfishly putting my comfort over others’ safety?

Now that my bare-faced running exposes me not only to shame but also a $100 fine, I decided to walk through downtown Manhattan Beach last Sunday, the second day of enforcement for the new emergency order. I wore a mask and I was glad I did. Not wearing one would have made me feel like the only guy wearing pants at a nudist colony.

The area was hopping, with hundreds of people walking, shopping and eating at the new outdoor seating that has been set up in front of numerous restaurants. Other than those who were eating, everyone I saw was wearing a mask.

I talked to one of the yellow-vested officers the city had contracted to enforce the mask order. He said officers only had to talk to a small number of visitors, most of whom put on their mask when asked or accepted one from the officers if they didn’t have one. 

Seeing so many people protecting themselves and each other and still going about their day, safely spending time with each other and money in our local businesses, it made me think that we are going to get through to the other side of this pandemic—weary, saddened and sobered. But we will get through.

On my way home, I stopped by Village Runner and bought a mask designed for runners. It’s like something a bank robber in the old west might wear, only brighter.

When I was a kid, I loved superheroes. I desperately wanted to be Spiderman. Running in my new mask, I had new-found respect for the webslinger. He fought super villains wearing a mask over his whole head.

All I have to do to help save the world is run down the street with my nose and mouth covered.

It doesn’t make me a hero, but my mask can certainly ensure I am not a villain, and that’s enough for me.

Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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