Monday, June 22, 2020

The mask wars: Don't hate on special needs moms who want to protect their children

In any other year, Facebook photos of graduates partying it up would be a happy thing. But these days, it's cause for alarm, anger and despair, especially among parents like me who have children with special needs. My friend Hallie Levine, mom to a daughter with Down syndrome and Graves disease who takes medication that suppresses her immune system, recently posted about what she was seeing in her town in Connecticut.

The parents posting the graduation photos, Hallie noted, "fought so hard for an in-person graduation ceremony and swore they'd be responsible about social distancing, and now this?" They should have insisted that their teens wear a mask or keep themselves at a reasonable distance, she continued: "I get that your kids are entitled to a beautiful graduation. But my child is also entitled to get the medical treatment and therapies he needs without me being fearful for her life.... I 'get' that it's an inconvenience, but my daughter has just as much of a right to a 'normal' life as yours. End of rant."

After Hallie posted that, people unfriended her on Facebook. "Some sent me nasty messages, including one that accused me of being a mentally ill drama queen who thrived on being judgmental and stirring up trouble," she told me. For the record, Hallie is a loving mom of three children and widely respected journalist, who recently wrote an excellent piece for The New York Times about the struggles families of children with special needs are facing this summer.

Hallie felt "shocked and sad" by the backsplash. "But I know I'm right," she says. "I talked to my pediatrician about it and she 100 percent agrees."

So. We have reached a point in this pandemic where protecting your child from getting a deadly virus makes you culpable. How scary is that?

As our country continues to battle the coronavirus, there is another battle happening: the one between those of us who fear for the safety of our at-risk children and family members, and the people who won't wear masks. Our family, like many, is getting around more and more although we still aren't going to any indoor public areas. When we're out, we are noticing a major lack of people wearing masks. It's became a troubling car game. "NO MASK!" Max will point out again and again and again as we drive around. Families taking walks on trails, playing sports in parks, runners in our neighborhood: no masks. And the situation is just going to get worse as  it gets hotter.

I hear about the mask wars constantly and see the posts on Facebook, including parents distraught that relatives won't wear masks at BBQs and other family gatherings. A friend was recently telling me a story about an immunocompromised young woman who went to a graduation party where her friends knew to wear masks and keep their distance—except one mask-less guy, who sat right next to her on a bench and told her not to worry, that all of this concern about catching the virus was over the top. She burst into tears and her friends quickly rallied and shooed him away.

Someone in my area recently took her mother-in-law, aged 90, out for a walk in a park where a big sign clearly stated, "Face Coverings Required." She put up a post on our local Facebook group that "75 percent of the people were not wearing masks. People would walk within one foot of her wheelchair and not even try to cover their face." She spoke out against neighbors who "don't give a crap about your health or care if you become another statistic." Angry words, to be sure, but they were coming from a place of deep concern. The responses were mostly supportive, noting common courtesy and decency and being a responsible human being, but mixed in were some that made my blood pressure rise.

Some faulted this woman for taking an elderly person out for a walk in a public place. Said one guy, "We don't live in a fascist post apocalyptic world guys. Respect social distancing hut we don't need the SS to enforce common sense." [Bonus vile points for referencing the nazis, jerk.] Another commenter wrote, "I refuse to wear a mask outside Please wear masks when around other people. It's not a huge ask!" and someone responded, "No, sorry, I won't do it. You wear yours and you'll be safe." WHICH IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that you can be a carrier or asymptomatic and unknowingly spread germs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 35 percent of coronavirus patients don't have symptoms. And there is still so much that's unknown about this disease.

As weary as we all are of social distancing, as confining as it might feel to wear a mask,  as much as we'd like to believe the hot weather makes everything better, we remain a country at tremendous risk for illness and fatalities from the coronavirus. Other countries are shocked by what's going on here, as this Washington Post article noted. "It really does feel like the U.S. has given up," noted one infectious-diseases specialist in New Zealand. "It's hard to see how this ends. There are just going to be more and more people infected, more and more deaths. It's heartbreaking."

As parents and concerned family members, it's up to us to keep talking about this and trying to educate others—and it's up to towns to post signs about wearing masks and to remind locals, too. If people don't want to constantly wear masks, that's understandable. When I go out for a walk in our neighborhood, I don't always have one on, but I do have one in hand to slip on if I see someone approaching or I pass by people. And we always wear them in parks or other outdoor public spaces. It's no big deal to keep one in your pocket or purse and put it on on—on a hiking trail, on a street in town, wherever—or to steer clear by at least six feet if not more. It's not a nicety, it's a matter of life and death.

At the very least, don't hate on people who are speaking out to protect their children and family members. We aren't trying to go commando on your or ruin your summer. We are just trying to keep our children and loved ones alive.


  1. I think wearing a mask when you are going to be closer than six feet to a person is common decency and also a sign of respect and consideration. If we weren’t in a pandemic and someone sneezed in public without covering their mouth, you’d think they were inconsiderate and gross. Now that we are in the pandemic, breathing on another person is gross and rude and reckless.

    As for the graduations, I really understand the desire to see your kid graduate in person. I am missing out on seeing two of my children graduate this year. However, having an in-person outdoor graduation at this time is not right because there will invariably be people who cannot attend either because they are unable or uncomfortable being in a crowd. It is important to be extremely tolerant of people’s fear and their personal reasons for being risk-averse. Having these graduations in person puts some families in the uncomfortable situation of telling their children that they cannot attend.

    As a society, we need to respect each person’s right to feel safe and protected and we need to do everything we can to ensure safety for the masses.

  2. In my area of NY we do not have to wear masks unless we are going to be close to other people. That being said the only time my brother and I are ever in a situation that requires them are when we do things like go to the store which is MAYBE once a week.
    When we go on walks we hardly see anyone and when we do it is easy to avoid everyone. I can't understand why people will not wear masks. If the style you have doesn't work for you get a different one. Personally I can't stand the elastic ones so ours have strings to tie.

  3. In California everyone over the age of 12 must wear a mask every time they walk out the door.

  4. Yes to everything you said. I guess a lot more people have to get sick and die until everyone takes this seriously.

  5. Sigh. I live in California, and despite the directive for all people to wear masks, I see maybe 50% of the people wearing them when I do go out. I'm at home most of the time, as is my severely disabled young adult daughter. I'm afraid that people actually DON'T give a shit. This is a terrible time, and America is a terrible country.


Thanks for sharing!

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