To the Editor:

As a lifetime resident of this region, I have always loved the kindness and respect extended to the elderly and vulnerable.

In my upbringing and my teaching, I’ve been a beneficiary and a conduit for these good manners to the generation I precede as well as the one I follow. And that’s where the importance of wearing a mask during this period of COVID-19 comes in.

There’s a stubbornness in me that resists doing as I’m told – a don’t-follow-the-herd, individualistic part that dislikes anything even remotely cautious or prissy. However, mask-wearing is different. I have family and friends who previously enjoyed a public life, but whose world is now limited to the confines of their home, and all because they are at risk if they try to engage in life as they did before the pandemic. 

A few Sylva businesses have set aside days for seniors to shop, and most businesses have cashiers and receptionists wearing masks, but that doesn’t really help the elderly or sick who have to walk past four people at the next cash register who can’t be bothered with a face covering. My 75-year-old mother is an enthusiastic gardener who refuses to quit living until there’s a vaccine, so she dons her mask and goes to Walmart to buy mulch or Lowes to look at flowers. But each time, she runs the risk of exposure because of those who won’t inconvenience themselves with a mask even for the duration of a shopping trip. 

One friend in her 90s recently said she would love to go to Food Lion and look at every item on the shelves, taking her time and making her own choices as she once did. I wish she could now, but that’s not possible as long as so many of us are unwilling to protect those who most need protecting.

Wearing a mask should not be divisive, but since our political parties have already chosen that route, it’s pretty obvious to me which party has chosen old-fashioned good manners. The elderly and those ill with cancer, diabetes or other diseases are more likely to die from COVID-19, and research tells us that if we are asymptomatic and wear a mask, we’re less likely to spread it. That’s not hard to understand.

If I can decrease the likelihood of causing someone harm by wearing a covering on part of my face, I really don’t mind. I’d even go so far as to say that all the people I see at the grocery store wearing masks must have been raised with the same tradition I was – to be considerate of those who need consideration. Making people feel comfortable has always been the hallmark of good manners. If wearing a mask allows the elderly and the sick to live life a little better and a little longer, I’d say that’s good manners. And that’s not a Democrat or Republican tradition, it’s a Southern Appalachian tradition.

Dawn Gilchrist,