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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: The Masked Vs. The Unmasked

Tommy Tomlinson

There are plenty of ways to divide us into two types of people. I think the newest way is this: Those who wear masks when they go out and about, and those who don’t.

The other day I went to pick up some takeout from Yafo on Central Avenue. The way it works there is, you order and pay online, and they leave your bag on a counter at the entrance.

Two other people got there about the same time I did. We were all wearing masks, spaced out at the proper distance, looking like some sort of Pink Floyd album cover. After a little awkward head-faking, the woman who got there first headed for the counter. And then a guy without a mask walked right between all of us and grabbed his bag and left.

He did not turn back to see our death glares.

By now you probably know the deal about masks. They’re not so much to keep you from getting the virus as they are to keep you from spreading it. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, you might be infected. And the mask keeps the little droplets in your breath from getting through and landing on somebody else.

Needless to say, that unmasked man could have left droplets all over our bags.

I wiped everything down when I got home. But I can’t quite disinfect my disbelief that there are still not people taking the virus seriously when they’re around strangers.

There was a photo on the front page of Tuesday’s Observer of people getting on a Lynx train, most of them without masks, most of them close enough to touch one another. I feel for anyone who has to take public transportation right now, the same way I feel for anyone who still has to go to a workplace away from home. But a mask doesn’t have to be medical-grade. It can be a bandana tied over your nose and mouth. Just something to protect the people around you in close quarters.

This virus is a test for us in a lot of ways. How do our leaders respond in a true crisis? How do we manage doing without some things we take for granted? But I feel like the main test, when we have to be around one another, is simpler: How much do we care about people we don’t know?

Because right now, in these public meshing places, if you’re wearing a mask, it shows that you’re thinking about others. And if you don’t, it feels like it’s all about you.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.