Analysis: Both of these things can be true -- people are wearing masks, and cases are rising

Posted at 3:09 PM, Nov 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-02 15:48:43-05

CLEVELAND — The pandemic is not going well.

I know this because I watch Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conferences every week, and his tone has gone from “We are going to lick this thing, Ohio!” to “You have got to stop licking things, Ohio!” We all watch, waiting to see how our world will change, hoping it’s a “Fran’s soup recipe” day and not a “we might not have enough hospitals” day.

Thankfully, our national political leaders have come up with a smart, comprehensive plan to manage COVID-19. Ha-ha, just kidding. We need a little humor right now. One of our presidential candidates wants to force us all to wear government-mandated face masks inside of hermetically-sealed FEMA freedom pods until all coronavirus has been eradicated from the earth. The other hosts super-spreader events at his house.

All of it, I suspect, would be manageable, psychologically, had this pandemic struck in 1996. We would have stayed home and watched movies on the VCR, listened to some Wu-Tang on our CD players and kept up to date reading U.S. News and World Report. But this pandemic struck in 2020, when we have social media, and social media means that instead of people uniting to fight the pandemic, people are fighting the people who are fighting the pandemic.

On the one side, you have those who are taking it all in stride and doing what they can to keep the virus at bay. OK, I’ll wear the mask, they say. I’ll socially distance. I won’t sneeze directly into grandma’s face like it’s 2019. On behalf of everyone who wants to knock the numbers down so we can save lives and give our kids normal things like education inside of a school – thank you.

Others aren’t taking it in stride – the mask people, in particular. They don’t like masks, and they tell everyone how much they don’t like masks all the time. “I hate the masks,” they tell you, even though you’re talking about something unrelated, like for example, the return of the McRib.

“The McRib is back!”

“Can’t eat a McRib through a mask!” they say.

“But pickles, onions and barbecue sauce are a magical combination. You can remove your mask and still partake in this limited-time offer.”

“Masks are the slippery slope to TOTAL GOVERNMENT CONTROL,” they say.

“The existence of the McRib is proof they have no control. No health-obsessed regime would allow it.”

“Voluntarily sliding a piece of cloth over my face to protect the lives of others is tyranny,” they say.

“It’s literally the opposite of tyranny.”

“Well, the numbers are going up, so the masks must not be working!” they say.

That last one is something a lot of folks on social media have been repeating – if masks are so great, how come the numbers are up? I have to say -- I respect where the anti-maskers are coming from. It is our God-given right as Americans to bellyache, complain loudly, relentlessly meme and publicly question the wisdom of our leaders. They said don’t wear a mask, and then said we should wear a mask. They said don’t gather in large numbers, then they said it was OK, as long as it was to protest or watch pro football.

I’m no big-city epidemiologist. I’m just a small-town journalist who loves America and enjoys the simple things, like keeping my parents alive. Bear that in mind when I offer up this humble analysis.

To those who say masks don’t work because cases are going up, let’s remember that we have no idea how many people are actually wearing masks. It’s not something anyone can measure in real-time. It’s totally possible that fewer people are wearing masks compared to summer. Maybe the masks were working until people stopped wearing them. Then the argument becomes, “The masks that people aren’t wearing anymore aren’t working!” Which … yeah.

It’s also possible that many people are wearing masks. Let’s say that is the case. Both of these things can be true: people are wearing masks, and cases are going up.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offers us a good example. Christie recently appeared in one of DeWine’s non-soup press conferences to tell Ohioans that he is usually vigilant about wearing his mask. Then he attended an event at the White House, which he thought would be a safe space because … it has a magic COVID forcefield? I don’t know. Power does things to people. Anyway, he attended what we’d later learn was a “super-spreader” event being held on behalf of the president’s new Supreme Court nominee. Afterward, both Christie and the president wound up in the hospital.

Masks weren’t Christie’s problem.

Note the lack of masks at this well-attended event.

The problem was trusting a bunch of other people who were also not wearing masks.

Social events inside homes, as well as weddings and funerals, are where the traceable spread is taking place in Ohio, according to health officials. We trust our friends and family, and we’re more likely to let our guards down and remove masks and not distance when you spend time with loved ones and Supreme Court nominees.

If you wear your mask 99% of the time, but that 1 percent is when you and others are most at risk, it’s not the mask that’s to blame.

Because coronavirus means we live in the upside-down, we may actually be safer with strangers. We don’t trust people we don’t know, so we’re more likely to mask up and keep our distance in public, which keeps strangers as well as ourselves safe. We’re far more likely to put ourselves and loved ones in danger because no one wants to appear rude.

So, yes, it’s possible that people are wearing masks and cases are rising.

Turns out, the real masks are the choices we made along the way.

Joe Donatelli is the digital director at News 5 Cleveland. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Email: