Does wearing a mask violate our freedoms? Here’s what readers say.
A recent letter to the editor about face masks touched off a flurry of responses.
Kay Jackson, 22, from St. Petersburg, who work as a home health aid, picks up a few face masks at the Lealman Exchange on Thursday.
Kay Jackson, 22, from St. Petersburg, who work as a home health aid, picks up a few face masks at the Lealman Exchange on Thursday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 27, 2020

Editor’s note: The Tampa Bay Times recently published a letter from a reader that expressed a familiar — if not widely accepted —view that face mask requirements infringe on personal liberties. Safe to say that most of our readers disagreed, given the torrent of letters they wrote in response. Here’s a sample:

Wearing a mask is not tyranny

Sorry, being asked to wear a face mask during a pandemic is not “having one’s rights trampled on” by “tyrannical politicians”. Wearing a face mask during a pandemic makes you a member of a civil society. Wearing a mask is not tyranny, it is you making a small sacrifice in an attempt to prevent your actions from adversely affecting your neighbors. Get over yourself.

William Carroll, St. Petersburg

It’s 10 minutes. What’s the big deal?

Make no mistake: Your “liberties” end where my patients’ excess health risk begins, because they have a right to live healthfully without undue risk imposed by selfish and reckless citizens. Be neighborly. Don’t be difficult. We can handle wearing masks, temporarily, for 10 minutes in the grocery store. It isn’t an imposition on your “freedom.” You give yourselves too much credit. It is exercising good community health, primary prevention practice. Period.

Sam Vafadar, Tampa

The writer is jeopardizing first responders

To the letter writer who seems given to exaggeration and refuses to wear a face mask because of her “right to bodily integrity and autonomy,” I can only say this: If you contract the coronavirus — and I sincerely hope you do not — please also exercise your right not to call an ambulance, not to be transported to a hospital, and not to be treated by doctors and nurses. Don’t expect our first responders to place their lives in jeopardy to protect your delicate sensibilities. Oh, and for good measure, make sure your “Do Not Resuscitate” order is current. After all we wouldn’t want to violate your “bodily integrity” by wasting a perfectly good ventilator.

Emiliano Quindiagan, St. Petersburg

Medical masks are not new

My right to life and liberty is restricted when the letter writer refuses to wear a mask. Her liberty is not infringed one bit by that same requirement. She can still do anything she otherwise could and go anywhere she otherwise could. It is highly unlikely that she feels she is entitled to drive north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 275, or run a red light, or roll through a stop sign, simply because she wishes to exercise her right to liberty.

Further, her assertion that a mask policy is a massive medical experiment with unknown long term consequences is absurd. Medical professionals have been wearing masks since 1897, and consistently since 1937, with clinical evidence to justify it, and absolutely zero evidence of any ill effects on the wearer. I would challenge the letter writer to allow any surgeon to operate on her without wearing a mask and see how that works out.

Sheryl Feinman, Largo

Masks show that you care

How does requiring masks in congested indoor and outdoor public areas violate someone’s rights? We prohibit smoking in public spaces because science has proved that secondhand smoke can cause serious health issues. Few would argue that the smoking ban violates their freedom and rights. Masks are necessary for the same reason. Most masks will not prevent the wearer from catching the coronavirus, but they will reduce the infection risk for others in close proximity.

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All Americans value our freedom and individual rights. But the flip side of having rights is responsibility — for one’s actions and the welfare of others. We do not have the right to knowingly endanger the health of another person.

Robert More, Riverview

Hypocrisy at its finest”

Many people say all lives matter, but refuse to wear masks in public settings. That is hypocrisy at its finest. I am an elderly person with numerous special conditions caused by exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War. When you wear a mask around me, you are telling me that my life matters.

Michael Crouch, Seffner

Smoking isn’t allowed, either

I will support your freedom to choose not to wear a mask and go where ever you choose, if you support my right to smoke where ever and whenever I please.

Jerry Wood, Tampa

Political rhetoric will not protect us

COVID-19 cannot be talked to death by political rhetoric and cries that curtailing activities and wearing masks is somehow un-American. That kind of thinking puts individuals, their families and others at risk. That risk could kill you, a loved one or a stranger. Until I am satisfied that the dangers of COVID-19 have passed, I will continue to take recommended precautions. I do that to protect my family and to protect those who I may come in contact with when shopping or doing essential activity. To do otherwise is folly and dangerous. Be smart, stay safe and keep others safe!

Marc Yacht, M.D, M.P.H, retired director of the Pasco County Health Department,

Covid-19 is a deadly weapon

What is the effective difference between a man walking down the street with a machine gun spraying his neighbors with bullets and one with Covid-19 spraying them with a deadly virus?

Ed Bradley, Boynton Beach

Why run the letter?

Science has shown that masks are effective. The only question is how effective. Humans have transmitted diseases for as long as humans have lived in close contact with others, and humans have had to devise ways to protect members of society from the spread of those diseases. Personal liberties have often been sacrificed for the public good, via public health measures, when these diseases have emerged (the operative word being “public”). When society as a whole stands to suffer, public measures must be taken to protect us all.

Thankfully, we now live in a time when scientists understand germ-theory and attempt to protect us using this knowledge. As a society, we should respect one another enough to do our part to save each other from these microbes. By choosing this letter as your letter of the day, the Times appears to ignore scientific facts and to promote the beliefs of those freedom-loving Americans who choose their own selfish desires over the good of the public health. Shame on you.

Vickie Weiss, Treasure Island

Mr. Spock, still logical

Mr. Spock perhaps said it best in the file Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This is clearly one of those times.

Colin Povey, Clearwater

Wearing masks should not be political

I take exception to your highlighted letter today, as one does not have the right to inflict injury or sickness on others and call it their personal liberty. Unfortunately, the political right has seized on the issue of wearing masks as unAmerican, while the medical community is stressing the need to stop the spread of a deadly virus. As to the letter writer, I hope you do not get to experience what a ventilator is like.

Diane Pearson, Dunedin

Not wearing a mask just shifts the burden

I feel it was irresponsible for the Times to feature a letter from a reader who urged “every red-blooded freedom-loving American” to not comply with the mandate to wear a mask in places where social distancing is not possible. It’s too bad that this viewpoint doesn’t allow that the “temporary safety” of wearing a mask protects others from possible infection. So, the freedom one may feel by not wearing a mask simply shifts the burden of not spreading the virus to others while at the same time jeopardizing everyone else’s health. Perhaps each time a non-mask wearer sees a person with a mask, they should thank them — from a safe distance.

David McCubbin, Palm Harbor

Note: The original letter also referred to Benjamin Franklin’s often misunderstood quote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Ben Franklin taken out of context

The “little temporary safety” Ben Franklin had in mind bears no relationship to the dangers of spreading a disease which has already infected millions of Americans and killed over a hundred thousand. Franklin was writing about a tax dispute.

Michael Zwerdling, RN, Palm Harbor

Like it or not, we’re in this together

It’s incomprehensible to me that someone sees wearing a mask as an affront to their “freedom,” as opposed to their responsibility to help protect their fellow human beings. Have you not seen individuals walking into Publix who are obviously undergoing chemotherapy and are obviously at risk? Are you not concerned about being around people who may have young children at home fighting cancer?

Up until this point in history we as Americans have bonded together to make it through tough times — think victory gardens, and all the other trials we’ve successfully gone through because it was good for the nation. There has never been a more important time to join hands and fight this — TOGETHER!

Mary Miller, New Port Richey

Pull your head out of the sand

I ask the letter writer why does selfish individualism trump community well-being here? Why is wearing a face mask, a simple act that could save many lives, so egregious? Do you not see the death count growing? Are you not reading, listening, or seeing the stories of grieving loved ones? Are you sticking your head in the sand, so you can maintain some fable that all is right with the world as long as you get to continue to do whatever you want to do? You can wear a mask and still go shopping, get a haircut, and see friends. It is not a hindrance; it is a gift you are giving to your community.

Jill Fowler, Palm Harbor

Have you no decency?

Wearing a mask is a sign of simple decency.

Paul Wyness, St. Petersburg