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The Pandemic of Unfriending

I support masks and social distancing. That is getting me ridiculed and unfriended.

I'll call her Tina.

Tina was a friend of mine I met through a local charitable organization. Young, cute, and married with a school-aged son, she was friendly and vivacious. No matter what the project was, Tina jumped in with both feet, from collecting items for the local women's shelter, to organizing our next basket raffle.

She was fun, hardworking, and had - what I thought - a good head on her shoulders.

On April first, as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading rapidly, our Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, ordered a state-wide stay-at-home order, shuttering all non-essential businesses for the entire month.

As a healthcare professional who is also married to a physician, I applauded that decision. But some people I knew, including Tina, did not.

Tina mentioned Nashville, a city to where she enjoyed traveling. "Look," she posted on Facebook. "Nashville is open! We should be, too!" And then this: "I've never before had a political bone in my body, but what our governor is doing is so wrong." (I could envision her eye-rolling).

The hard truth was that there were mounting cases of COVID-19 throughout Pennsylvania, and that our governor and secretary of heath, Dr Rachel Levine, were, unlike Tennessee governor Bill Lee (a Trump republican), being responsible and protecting their citizens.

So, I thought I would educate her on what an infectious respiratory pandemic is, and why she and her family needed to be careful to wear a mask in public, physically distance, and certainly not travel to a state like Tennessee or South Carolina where people were crowding together in bars and restaurants. Maybe no one is telling her the facts, I thought. I was pretty sure Tina only had a high school education and perhaps had never taken biology. As someone who worked in the ICU and has a Master of Science degree, I felt obligated.

So, I posted on her page, and in a friendly tone I explained to her why Governor Wolf had shut down the state and how serious this pandemic is.

Her response was a cheery, "You have your opinion, and I have mine." with a smiley emoji

Okaaaay. I may have responded, "You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts." And then listed more facts.

It was surprising that mine was the only cautionary response to her post about Nashville. Others on her page spoke out against the governor, too, siding with Tina, also incredulous as to how that man (the governor) could do something as horrible as closing bars and stores and asking Pennsylvanians to remain at home. Someone posted a photo of Myrtle Beach, with everyone dining in indoor bars and restaurants and crowding the boardwalk. "Yes," crowed Tina. "Myrtle's also doing it right!"

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Tina posted vacation photos on Facebook and Instagram. She and her husband and son were in Myrtle Beach,a town that two weeks later would begin to vigorously bloom with coronavirus.

I cringed. To travel to a destination like Myrtle Beach during a pandemic was so irresponsible. It was tantamount to asking to be infected. I hoped she and her family would not be. Tina posted how great it was to be eating at restaurants! Drinking at the bar! Hanging out on the boardwalk!

After Tina returned home, she posted a selfie on Facebook of her in the local Marshalls, arms full and smiling broadly. "Happy to go shopping! No government muzzle! with the masked face emoji.

I posted right away, reminding her that closing down stores during rising numbers of COVID-19 was not a "muzzle" but was the responsible thing for a state leader to do. And that she needed to wear a mask and take the spreading virus seriously.

When I returned to her page later that day to see if anyone else had posted a similar warning to her, I found out Tina had unfriended me.

Not that it matters now, but I was hurt. I am 60 years old. Tina is half my age. In the small Western Pennsylvania town I had lived until recently, that charity was my primary source of wonderful acquaintances of all ages, fellow doers and givers. We all worked together to serve our community. We all got along. I derived great joy from making friends while giving back. We even had guest speakers representing various healthcare fields. None of us ever mentioned politics at those meetings, or questioned science or the state government. Our meetings and activities were all about helping families less fortunate.

And I had considered Tina my friend.

I am discovering, during the uncertainty and fear of this COVID-19 pandemic, that people are sadly not who I thought they were. It was deeply depressing enough after Trump's election to discover high school classmates, neighbors, friends and family who were cheering him. That is still ongoing and it is even more horrifying now, because he is murdering tens of thousands of innocent Americans as I write this, due to his utter ineptitude in fighting coronavirus. Just today, Florida reached the ungodly and terrifying number of 15,300 COVID-19 cases. Fifteen THOUSAND. In 24 hours. The entire country of Germany had around 230 today.

But getting back to Tina et al.: to read on social media that some of the friends and acquaintances who were so capable and generous and decent in that charity were now openly willing to infect other family, friends and people in their own community by not wearing a piece of cloth and physically distancing from others? That really broke me.

And the fact that no one else in that group ever publicly came to my defense? Not even sometimes "liking" posts containing real pandemic data and mask facts on my own Facebook page? That has broken me even more.

Reading the Facebook pages of local media, I continue to be aghast when I read the comments of any article about coronavirus infections here in Pennsylvania: That the virus isn't real - it's just the government trying to control you and masking is the first step; that wearing a mask is akin to boarding a cattle car in WWII Germany because you are "told" to (unreal); that COVID -19 isn't really all that bad. That it is my body, my choice (interesting words); that wearing a mask will result in carbon monoxide poisoning; that you can't wear a mask if you have asthma; that it's all a lie by liberals and it will disappear after the presidential election; That any vaccine will contain a chip manufactured by Bill Gates which will then track our movements (ummm, mobile phones already do that); that how dare the government tell us what to do; that I have "really strong" immune system; that masks don't work; that you are all afraid so just stay home while I live my life; and the most ridiculous: that if jeans can't hold in a fart, then a mask can't stop a virus.

When I comment by offering facts and sources, I am yelled at, ridiculed, mocked, jeered, disbelieved. Even when I give them my credentials. One guy who disbelieved anything I told him had on his profile page that he had attended "Beer Drinking University." I did point that out. And yes, wonderful other commenters whom I do not know personally do defend me, and for them I am grateful.

But the terrifying evidence is there: all throughout the US, there is a large percentage of the population which is ignorant, conspiracy-believing, angry, suspicious, Trump supporting, racist and uninformed. Blaming the recent nationwide Black Lives Matter protests for virus spread but not their maskless, crowded tractor pulls and Second Amendment and Trump rallies. YouTube is full of screaming, spluttering "Karens" and "Kens" who yell and protest that "their rights" are being trampled on for being asked to simply wear a mask while shopping 30 minutes inside a store. Sometimes their wild flailing includes a racial epithet. And they assault bystanders by ripping their masks off their faces.

So, I am worn down and embittered. And worried about America. What is wrong with people? Why can citizens of other countries listen to their governments when their actual lives depend on that listening, and wear the damn mask?

Well, if we had had a leader who wore a mask from the get-go and didn't deny science himself. But that can't be the only answer.

A lot of us knew since early March that this level of infection due to ham-handed "leadership" was coming. Watching the circles on the map blooming and overflowing across the USA filled us with daily, sickly dread.

I don't believe many of us were prepared for the level of ignorance and rage directed at doing the right and critical and humane thing: donning a mask. Staying away from people not in your family or "bubble." Understanding how sick you may become if you get this, and how you will grieve if a family member or friend of yours dies from COVID.

I am now limiting the feeds which I read on Facebook - for my own sanity. But unfortunately I am not able to look away from the jaw-dropping, quickly rising infections all across our nation. Infections, suffering and deaths caused by those who refuse to be informed by truth, and simply click "unfriend."

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