Saturday, March 2, 2024

Many of us view President Donald Trump’s rally Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as an incredibly irresponsible, selfish and extraordinarily dangerous potential super Covid-19 spreader. Medical experts and epidemiologists have voiced serious concern for the health and safety of the region because of the rally.

Many – dangerously too many – liberal, educated Cambridge residents are behaving little differently from the president’s supporters by refusing to wear masks and having no substantive strategy to practice social distancing. 

Why? For a week or so after Gov. Charlie Baker made wearing masks in public mandatory, it seemed like a success – most people were wearing masks in public, if only out of fear of receiving a $300 fine. I didn’t care; I was thrilled that the vulnerable, elderly and disabled residents of Cambridge might be a little safer from infection.

But just a few weeks later, I rarely see Cambridge residents wearing masks in public. Especially joggers. 

I compare the wearing of masks to the mandating of seatbelts that spread throughout the country during the 1980s and 1990s. For years, drivers opposed to the new seatbelt laws came up with unusual excuses or justifications – my favorite was “I don’t want to be tangled in the seatbelt and trapped in the car. It’s better to be thrown from the car in a collision.” (Don’t believe me? Google it. It was a common justification.)

After years of police fining drivers and passengers for not wearing seatbelts, today most of us put them on immediately upon entering our vehicles. But not wearing a seatbelt cannot infect an entire community with an untreatable virus. 

Medical experts and epidemiologists almost unanimously warn of a second, far worse wave of this coronavirus pandemic in the fall, with potential for us to experience Covid-19 and the flu at the same time. 

Yet in a phone call this week from an elected official, they dismissed the importance of leading an effort to have police fine people for not wearing masks. Our officers are currently only giving residents warnings.

We don’t have years, as our country did when trying to implement the mandatory wearing of seatbelts, to force people to wear masks in public.

Life experience has taught me, especially the experience of being a parent, that sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. True leaders understand that sometimes they must be the mean parent. The people who are alive today but may die this fall because others won’t wear masks properly and because we don’t have courageous leadership that makes them.

Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi is an East Cambridge resident, long time immigrant advocate and former Liaison for Immigrant Affairs to the Cambridge Mayors office.