They wore the uniform. You can certainly wear a mask.
A man walks in front of a mural on 6th Street wearing a mask. [LOLA GOMEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

They wore the uniform. You can certainly wear a mask.

As we honor our nation’s fallen heroes on this Memorial Day I hope that all of us will embrace their willingness to make a similar sacrifice, even if ours is proportionately tiny.

Originally posted by Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Austin American-Statesman.

On this Memorial Day weekend, Americans are called to reflect on the military men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice wearing the uniform of our country. Their willingness to die defending their fellow Americans and our way of life throughout history stands in stark contrast to those individuals today who are callously unwilling to make a minor wardrobe change to protect others from a deadly virus. Face masks are not only part of an effective health strategy, they’re also a symbol of our shared commitment to serving one another and bringing our economy back to life.

Since it began, the vast majority of Texans have responded to this pandemic by following the medically informed guidance of government leaders, taking to their homes, and adopting best practices ranging from hand washing and disinfection to mask wearing and social distancing. As a result, we have succeeded in flattening the curve, keeping Texas hospitals from drowning in patients.

At the same time, we have been afflicted with a small yet vocal minority who interpret mask wearing guidance as an infringement on their freedom. They are recognizable for their unsettling habit of livestreaming their defiance of common courtesy, typically verbal attacks on minimum wage employees at grocery stores who are trying to hold them accountable to the posted health and safety rules.

This virus is not a joke. It spreads as simply as an infected person (typically showing no symptoms although riddled with the virus) exhaling near someone who happens to be inhaling (something a healthy person does around 20,000 times per day.) Someday, God willing and science delivering, we’ll win this war on the coronavirus with a vaccine, but, for now, our arsenal largely consists of “barrier” behaviors informed by compassion and courtesy. These measures work well enough together that we are now able to focus on safely reopening our state.

Fortunately, we have a leader like Governor Abbott who has set the national standard, carefully weighing the guidance of medical experts to first protect Texans’ health, then guiding the process of restoring their livelihoods. While this process that began in March certainly seems laborious, its deliberate pace has been a key to its success. For that trend to continue, we must ensure people are ready to leave their homes, go back to work, and patronize the businesses that have nearly run dry as a result of the prudent pause.

As our state reopens and Texans see benchmarks like allowable occupancy percentages increase, I expect they’ll move cautiously until they’re certain it’s safe to engage. That certainty will come when they see businesses setting and enforcing responsible standards for customer behavior and, more importantly, their fellow customers consistently following those standards. Without it, they’ll turn around and head home.

People who disregard those practices because they fancy themselves a modern day Patrick Henry are not only putting their neighbors at risk, they might also help trigger a new wave of infections and its accompanying economic retraction. It is time for them to reset their understanding of the situation and their role in it.

Readers of military history know that combat veterans rarely speak of having focused on flag or country during a firefight. Instead, they consistently allude to the fact that they were fighting for their buddies to their left and right. By their own accounts, the connection to the humanity and essential worth of their comrades in arms is what drove them to risk everything and sometimes die in the process.

As we honor our nation’s fallen heroes on this Memorial Day I hope that all of us will embrace their willingness to make a similar sacrifice, even if ours is proportionately tiny. A vital step is to redefine the mask in the minds of all Americans as a symbol of compassion, mutual respect and heartfelt patriotism. It’s also a show of support for our frontline health care workers and first responders.

So please don your mask when you leave your home as a tribute to the fallen and a symbol of our shared commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves, our families and one another.

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