Jerry Bettis


To the editor:

It was reported Tuesday that State Health Commissioner Lance Frye said, “I don’t think a mask mandate is enforceable, and secondly I’ve had multiple people come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey, I’ll wear a mask, but don’t tell me I have to wear a mask because I’m not going to do it.’” Now aside from that sounding like my child refusing to wear a coat in the winter because I told him to, there is a clear difference between personal liberty and public safety.

In 1963 we lived in married student housing at the University. Our neighbors had a child about a year old or so. We would see them constantly playing with her, walking with her, sitting in the grass with her and myriad other activities that displayed their love for her. Following a victorious football game one Saturday, their car was run into by an inebriated fan who had run a stoplight. The baby was thrown against the windshield and instantly killed. The entire neighborhood was devastated by the terrible news. The following Wednesday, I bought and installed seat belts in our 1951 Mercury and haven’t driven anywhere since unless all belts are clicked.

You may not remember, but there was a lot of hue and cry against seatbelt legislation throughout the ’60s. After mandatory wear finally passed, beginning with New York in 1984, we saw a rapid drop in highway fatalities. Was it an affront to personal freedom? Yes. Was it an issue of public safety? Yes. Public safety won, and you’d be hard-pressed to see very many people driving vehicles today without wearing their seat belts.

So, what’s the moral of this story? I saw distinct value in wearing seat belts and began to do so long before it was mandated. Others, including my mother-in-law, rebelled at the thought and were slow to be convinced, even by such a terrific persuader as I am. Can public safety trump (sorry) personal liberty? Yes, indeed, and we are living in a time of clear and present danger that requires us to yield a bit of personal liberty to save perhaps 100,000 American lives. I tell you, folks, this is a very simple decision to make. Not everyone will immediately start to wear masks, but maybe the neighbor or friend who does will protect you from getting Covid-19.

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