It was a small moment at the beginning of a Legislative Budget Committee meeting this month. Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, asked if he could participate through video if people in the room didn’t put on their masks.
Hawk is a diabetic and could be at greater risk for COVID-19 complications if he contracted the virus. He also noted that he didn’t want to be in a position to bring the virus home to his wife. In a few moments, visible on a video feed from the hearing, you can watch those in the room decide in real time whether to put on their masks or force Hawk to leave the room.
Thankfully, they all do so. The situation resolved, and the meeting continued.
It’s worth taking a step back and considering what happened and why. We should first commend Hawk, for handling a tough situation with grace and kindness. He made sure that his colleagues knew how much he appreciated them and their work. Sometimes all people need is a gentle nudge in the right direction.
We also are grateful Hawk’s colleagues showed their peer respect and compassion by putting on their masks.
On the other hand, we are disappointed that legislators would take off their masks in the Statehouse in the first place. Available public health guidance suggests that masks should be worn at all times indoors if you’re with people other than those you live with. It’s why, in many communities across this state, you have to wear a mask going to Walmart or Dillon stores or Dollar General.
Public health guidance also cautions against spending extended periods of time indoors with large numbers of people at close quarters. The Statehouse is a perfect example of just such an environment. Many legislators will be commuting from regions where the virus is widespread. Again, masks and social distancing are vital preventative tools.
Overall, it’s incredibly unfortunate that masks have become politicized. They serve as an insurance policy for those around you and yourself.
Looking out for others is a value touted by Democrats, of course, but Republicans can show personal fortitude by wearing and supporting mask use. They would be taking responsibility to combat a public health threat and set an example for their constituents.