Don Rogers: Much masked in pandemic |

Don Rogers: Much masked in pandemic

The mask-wearing cultures of eastern Asia have had a distinct edge in this pandemic.

The United States has spectacularly awful numbers, about the combined total of the next four global leaders: India, Brazil, Spain and the United Kingdom. We have had more than a quarter of the world’s total at nearly 30 million cases so far.

The country in the mask-wearing region with the most COVID-19 cases, Japan, has had nearly 440,000. Japan has 126 million people, compared to California’s 40 million in about the same land mass.

And how many cases in California so far? Well, nearly 3.6 million at this writing. So, the mask-wearing country with three times our state’s population in the same space has an eighth of our cases. Japan’s death toll is almost 8,000. California’s leads our nation at 53,000, and counting.

Japan has far and away the most contagion among its neighbors, where mask wearing long has been normal behavior with a respiratory disease running around.

The next highest is South Korea, with 51 million people in a country a quarter the size of California. They are just cresting 91,000 cases total, with 1,600 deaths.

And it drops from there: Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong. Mainland China’s approach went way, way beyond masking, as we know, though they are quick to cover up, as well.

Not so far away, mask-wearing Indonesia, population 271 million, has 1.3 million cases — about as many as Los Angeles County.

In real life, this serves as compelling evidence among the rational minded. But all too many of us take our cues from, well, politics and neighborhood cranks on Facebook.

I can’t be the only one who wishes the CDC, the U.S. surgeon general and all the other public health experts last spring had put being straight with the public about the science ahead of political considerations themselves.

The surgeon general back then even suggested masks could increase the spread of COVID-19, never mind that evidence to the contrary from Asia. Sigh, it can be hard sometimes to tell the cranks from the experts.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s this: Never let politics mask the science.


Masking the value of face coverings for the sake of supplies turned out not to be the greatest idea. Masking the scientific underpinning of wild swings between open and closed orders across California with the argument that the public was too dumb to understand the data probably wasn’t Gov. Gavin Newsom’s brightest move, either.

Also, oops, the night out at the restaurant while imploring the public to avoid social gatherings and indoor dining. How many other nights out were masked for lack of a timely photograph? You do have to wonder.

The president was faulted for trying to mask the fast-growing evidence of a pandemic he knew was nothing like the flu and then doing next to nothing to try to slow it down. Democrats would like to mask his efforts to fast track the development of the vaccines.

Newsom can’t win for restrictions whose criteria changed so often people stopped following them. California’s numbers ran as bad as the counts in Florida, Texas and other states that barely flirted with the limitations our state imposed.

If enough recall signatures are validated for a referendum, this will be another indictment on how a chief executive has dealt with the pandemic. Too little? Too much? The cold numbers don’t show any dramatic difference in political leadership, sorry.

But masking. Masking only makes good sense for health reasons. Those numbers are clear. And here’s something we can do for ourselves. Remember personal responsibility, the flip side of freedom?


The pandemic will pass, and perhaps this is happening now. Numbers are dropping, vaccinations rising. Soon enough, we’ll stop checking for our masks along with keys and wallets when we leave the house.

Which raises a question, at least for me: How much has the pandemic masked about our society?

Consider that President Donald Trump would almost certainly have won re-election on the strength of the economy and incumbent advantage. I don’t have much question about that. The Republicans have a good chance to retake the Senate, and the House is within reach, too.

By 2022 and certainly 2024, the pandemic will feel like a distant memory. The far deadlier Spanish Flu has taught us just how fast these things are forgotten.

Gallup reported last month that most Americans still lean more right of center than liberal. What might that mean for the next presidential race? Could it lead to a candidate roughly half the country views as a seditionist winning the election, a second term after all? Plenty of supporters see that path.

Other observers see the GOP splintering between followers of Republican tenets and followers of a personality. In this view, the party tips ever more populist and becomes too extreme to win the presidency or either house in Congress. I wouldn’t put too much on 2020 as a sign of this, though.

Not while Republican states across the country are hustling to legislate limits on voting — to mask, as it were, against the spread of Democrats.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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