PUTNAM POSTING: Revelations on Division Over Face Masks

Jennifer Maher | June 2020

Jennifer Maher

What divides us? Many things: politics, opinion, race, religion, culture, education, wealth, status and even beauty. Nineteen years ago, after the devastating 9/11 attacks on our country and our state, citizens and communities rose above difference. We embraced our neighbors, once strangers, and, for a time, humanity, love of country, and fear of what we could lose was an anti-divider.

Nearly a generation later, a simmering division and distrust based largely on political discord has made us lose sight of our basic sameness and humanity at a time when our country and county need to find common ground and common sense.

When something as simple as a face mask can stir anger and argument during a global pandemic, we need to check our motives. Some, like me, choose to wear a face mask and practice social distancing. I believe this action will protect others from contracting COVID-19—and I want others to be safe, not just me.

Early on, I got some unsolicited comments and snarky remarks from acquaintances and some I would consider friends. However, that did not deter me. Outside of my family, I owe no one an explanation. In addition to a precious new granddaughter, I am immunosuppressed (no spleen). Those two factors make wearing a mask a no brainer for me. I am okay with being judged for what I feel is the right thing to do. I choose not to judge people in public without a mask. I may have succumbed to one or two rants on the topic on social media, but mostly I just go about my business. Yet, it seems the world has been divided deeper into camps of conformity vs. nonconformity with regard to COVID-19 guidelines and phased reopenings. The topic is a political hot bed.

The Contact Tracer Program that goes into effect, I believe, June 1, will likely cause more division. We Americans are not people who like to share private information about ourselves or the people we associate with. But, all the science points to the fact that wearing masks, social distancing and contact tracing will keep the spread down to a minimum. These actions are the only solution that will allow us to continue our phased reopening. Surprisingly, the individuals who wish to defy Executive Orders and open for business before their designated Phase reopening date are, in many cases, the same individuals who are not complying with social distancing and mask wearing precautions. This inconsistency and having your cake and eating it too is causing confusion and a lack of trust among consumers and businesses.

Truth be told, I believe we are all correct. I can look at this situation through the eyes of both camps and find arguments I agree with. The bottom line is, we need to open up and we need to be safe and protect the vulnerable. They are parallel tracks at this point. Phase one is here. Hopefully, by the time you read this we are on the cusp or have qualified to begin phase two with new guidelines in hand. If we are not, it’s likely due to a lack of compromising common sense. Open up and play it safe. We can do both, and we are doing both successfully, so why the continued division?

At this point, phased reopening is the quickest and safest way through this. We can argue later about how and why this “just like a flu” virus brought the world to a screeching halt and who made the mistakes. Things are going to continue to be difficult and edgy for a while. No matter who you are, this pandemic has had its effect on you. So, let’s try to remember that we, together, can and will get through this. Our county leaders, who got off to a slow start, rallied and pulled off a huge achievement getting us to phase one. Being lumped into the Mid-Hudson Region, which was feared at first, turned out to be a blessing for us because we were part of a collaborative region that has been working together with Putnam as a team. The county executives pulled off an almost insurmountable task, or so it seemed, just a week prior. How? Unity. Putnam County, in the 11th hour, went from a 30-contact tracer requirement to nearly 90. Triple the tracers needed with almost no notice. How? Team work. Town and village officials and business leaders put their heads together and got it done. Selected, trained and opened over a weekend.

The best plan from here? Well, it’s difficult, but simple. The hard part is over. We are starting to regain some simple pleasures and if we stick together we get closer to life with personal freedoms (albeit different, perhaps for the better) soon enough. If I, a new first time Grandma who hasn’t seen her three-month old granddaughter in 2.5 months can say that, there must be something to it.

Shop local, practice social distancing, support your neighbors and friends. Business owners agree to your guidelines, create a safety plan, post it and move forward.

For the most up to date COVID-19 information go to www.Putnamcountybusinesscouncil.com.

Jennifer Maher
Jennifer Maher is chairwoman, the Putnam County Business Council and currently serves as the president of the Putnam/Westchester Chapter of the New York State Commercial Association of Realtors. She is also the Chief Operating Officer, Managing Broker and Partner of J. Philip Real Estate.