The woman and her two children walked into the house, quickly closing the door because it was a blustery winter day.  They arrived to celebrate a daughter’s birthday.

The boy joined the other kids.  The little girl, much younger, stuck near her mother.  She was wearing a coat but had bare feet.  Mucus bubbled around her nose.  She was whiny.  And obviously sick.

Out of caution, I asked, “Did she get a flu shot?”

“No, we don’t believe in them.”

My head started to explode.

“You don’t, umm, believe in science?  That the flu shot can prevent flu in a lot of people and make it far less bad for others?”

“No, we don’t think they work.”

The mother, now an elected official, soon admitted she and her husband actually had the flu a week earlier. When asked whether she might have given the flu to her children because they hadn’t been vaccinated, she seemed befuddled.  And my head actually did explode.

Across the state and country, we’re having similar encounters today over whether to wear masks to protect people from coronavirus — even if the chance is they don’t have it and won’t get it.

Science clearly shows that common-sense strategies like social distancing and wearing masks make a major impact in curbing a pandemic.  Had social distancing been in effect just one week earlier in March, new research shows an estimated 36,000 fewer people would not have died from coronavirus, according to The New York Times.

What is absolutely confounding is when people won’t follow suggestions, conclusions and guidelines that work and are based in science because they simply choose not to believe in the results of science.  Science is science.  It is derived from conclusions rooted in data that can be replicated.  Science is based on verifiable facts, not alternative realities created by beer goggles, political rhetoric and pink baby unicorns.

Take the issue of whether to wear a mask in public.  Masks are not comfortable.  But science shows they reduce the risk of getting infected with the virus — and of spreading it.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that whether one believes in wearing a mask in public is taking on a partisan edge.  Republicans and Democrats aren’t diametrically opposed.  A new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds about two-thirds of Americans say they wear a mask always or most of the time when in public and near people, such as when at a grocery store. Of the sample, 84 percent of Democrats said they wore masks always or mostly when in public and near people, compared to 66 percent of Republicans. 

In South Carolina, reactions to coronavirus have taken a more partisan edge in an America increasingly rollicked by volcanic political division over the last decade.  A new Clemson University Palmetto Poll based on data from a month ago shows more than three in four South Carolinians are at least moderately worried about the pandemic and its impact on their health.  But 71 percent of S.C. Democrats say they’re somewhat or extremely worried they’ll get sick from the virus, compared to 37 percent of Republicans.  There’s a similar split between black and white residents’ concerns.

The rate of the government’s response to the outbreak similarly split along party lines.  “Republicans were more satisfied than Democrats regarding the U.S. government’s response (68 percent to 6 percent), are more likely to approve of Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak (86 percent to 3 percent), and are less likely to think Trump acted too slowly (18 percent to 97 percent),” according to a press statement about the poll.

Let’s not make coronavirus or wearing masks about politics.  Science shows masks work.  At least for now, they should be worn whenever you’re in close contact with anyone, particularly inside where air isn’t refreshed as much as outside.  Use common sense, of course.  In my office where few people actually enter, I don’t wear a mask.  But when I shop and am exposed to others — just as they are exposed to me — I wear the dang mask.  You should too.

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Editor's Note: This story first appeared at StatehouseReport.com.

Image Credit: The feature image is a photo of Sheffield's Women of Steel - COVID-19: We can beat this taken by Tim Fennell via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of Statehouse Report. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, Charleston Currents. A former U.S. Senate press secretary, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack, who received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, lives in Charleston, S.C. with his daughters, a dog and a badass cat.

Brack’s new book, “We Can Do Better, South Carolina,” is now available in paperback via Amazon.