In the great American spirit of independence, some people in the U.S. have come up with an extremely shitty take on pandemic safety precautions. It goes something like: “I feel safe doing this. If you don’t, you should stay home.”
This selfish take is often deployed when somebody is demanding that bars reopen, or insisting that masks should be optional somewhere they happen to want to visit without one. Note that by acting in this way, these jerks are asking other people to assume a risk for their own benefit. They are asking bartenders and servers return to work so that they can enjoy a drink without having to carry it home in a plastic cup. They are asking employees and fellow shoppers to expose themselves to additional risk so they can walk around a store without a piece of fabric covering part of their face.
But the whole idea of a pandemic is that it spreads. Which means it’s not just about you. Maybe I’ve decided that I’m young and healthy and I’m ok with the risk of catching COVID. (That would be a stupid decision on my part, but let’s just say it’s my choice to make.) If I act carelessly, I could pick up an infection.
And by continuing to act carelessly, I might pass that infection on to my elderly parents, who are high risk. Or I might pass it to a cashier at the grocery store, who might not have health insurance. And maybe that person, before they even know they’re sick, will pass it to a couple of other shoppers. Maybe I’ll pass it to my kids, who’ll pass it to their teachers or to their classmates (if schools can even open up again before we have a vaccine), who will then go on to infect their own family members.
Wearing a mask protects other people from you in high risk areas, at least a bit, but all the other things that help in a pandemic — like staying home as much as possible — also stop you from ever becoming a link in a chain that leads from somebody with an infection to somebody who might die or suffer long-term consequences.
Protecting yourself from infection isn’t the only goal of safety measures; it’s taking yourself out of that potential chain of transmission. If a bunch of people are crowding together, maskless, they’re not just endangering themselves, but also everyone they’re going to interact with afterward.
Worrying only about yourself? That’s not how this works. Pandemics are a threat because we’re all so connected to each other in the first place. Nobody is going this alone.