Just like returning a shopping cart, wearing a mask has become a modern-day litmus test. While COVID is no world-ending virus and most people have no or mild symptoms, there are enough that get hit hard by the virus, have long-term issues, and die. And obviously, wearing a mask also helps with other diseases like Influenza.
Wearing a mask in public is an easy and convenient task. Stopping people from getting infected or spreading the virus and helping people at high risk is morally the right thing to do. There are no situations except extreme emergencies in which the person can not wear a mask. Simultaneously, depending on which country you live in, not wearing a mask has little to no penalties associated with it. You could get fined for it, but most of the time, people get out of your way to avoid conflict.
A person not willing to wear a mask for the collective good is selfish and irresponsible. It does not matter how deadly the virus is; it is about the mentality that governs people; if they feel superior and more important than the rest of society or understand that they are part of it and have a responsibility to care for their community.
Not to mention that long-term benefits far outweigh any short-term benefits. The lower the infection cases and the longer we can sustain them, the more time we have to develop a vaccine and find appropriate ways to deal with any virus that could emerge next. Because COVID has not been the first and won’t be the last, establishing an infrastructure that protects us from the next outbreak is crucial.
Interestingly, there seem to be three groups of countries emerging in this situation. The first is already culturally used to wearing masks and understands collective responsibility: Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and a few more fit this category. Additionally, they already had experience with SARS, and their strategies in dealing with COVID were highly effective.
The second group encompasses Europe and most other countries around the world. People only care if they need to and comply with the measures when legally enforced. While most follow the measures, a small part does not, opposes it, and puts everyone in danger.
The third group does not care about any collective ideas. Purely individualistic; they don’t understand that the freedom they praise is only established through the society they are a part of. This encompasses most of the US.
Here in Germany, for the staff of stores and restaurants, it is not legally required to wear any masks, so most of them don’t. Every once in a while, I also see people in grocery stores without a mask. They are not thrown out or confronted, which sets a dangerous precedent. It might be better here than the US, but then again, it could be way better if people cared for another.