I think we all can agree on one thing: Due to COVID-19, it’s a different kind of year. Schools shifted to online learning. Many jobs did, too.

We dealt with it in the best way we knew how. Some of us listened to expert medical advice that we should stay socially distanced from each other, and wear masks if and when we had to go out for life-sustaining necessities, such as groceries, and perhaps gas to be able to take our elderly mom to a necessary eye injection appointment to prevent blindness.

Last Friday, Gov. Whitmer beefed up the mask requirement with an executive order that requires businesses to not serve customers who refuse to wear one. Anyone not wearing a mask in public, or who can’t maintain 6-foot social distancing in outdoor spaces, is subject to a misdemeanor and a $500 fine.

Social media is lighting up with fighting, per the usual during this divided and contentious election year. But if just one single death can be prevented here, what’s the harm? That death prevented could be one of your loved ones.

Unfortunately, it came to this because COVID-19 numbers are rising, and some people are opting to make masks a political issue instead of a medical one. Sad that we need a babysitter, but clearly we’re not containing COVID-19 on our own. Numbers in many states are climbing and ICUs are filling, particularly in areas where people congregated with little regard to social distancing or mask-wearing.

Some say not wearing a mask is a symbol of freedom and defiance. I hope and pray we get to a place where wearing a mask is a sign of fighting against the true enemy here – the virus.

It’s ironic many of the same people who fight for the right to carry guns to protect their friends and loved ones won’t wear a mask to protect their friends and loved ones from a known enemy.

We follow speed limit laws or there can be consequences – harming others, ourselves or facing a hefty fine.

If you are a pet owner, are your pets vaccinated? That’s a state law, too – to protect your pets and to protect others.

Interestingly, rabies shots first were required in Michigan in 1919, a time when the Spanish Flu pandemic killed more than 675,000 Americans and 50 million worldwide. Mask-wearing was required and enforced then, too. Posters and medical professionals encouraged mask-wearing, calling it the patriotic and civil thing to do.

Unfortunately, our current pandemic seems anything but civil. People are lashing at each other on social media – co-workers, neighbors, friends. Loyalty to a mask-less president seems to take precedence over medical recommendations. The “it can’t happen to me” mentality lasts only until it happens to you.

Wearing a mask and social distancing is not about promoting fear or being controlled. It’s about being willing to help in the fight against this disease, not promote its continued spread.

This virus doesn’t discriminate. It hides in us and feeds off our actions, it pounces on our choices. It has no concern for our wealth, social status, political alliance or ambitions. It uses us. It abuses us. It treats us as a servant. It relies on us to do the dirty work – to re-create itself, by way of our interactions with others.

Every time I see someone wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, I admire that person, as someone who cares more for others than for him or herself. I see that person as a true patriot, a person who willingly enlisted to serve his or her country in this war against COVID-19.

We camped at Grand Haven State Park for the Fourth of July weekend. We’re not newbies to this campground. We’ve camped there every year for the last seven. Michigan DNR staff did their part in wearing masks, from those in the booth to those driving ATVs to pick up trash and those in charge of crowd control.

It couldn’t have been more clear this crowd had no interest in controlling COVID-19. No masks. No social distancing.

As we all know, heat blistered and bolted into the 90s that weekend, with a heat index in the sand well above those temperatures.

We packed air mattresses, snorkel gear, beach chairs and everything else any beach-going family would think of. However, we didn’t feel comfortable visiting the water most hours of the day. There was no safe way to do so. Although there was space to spread out, people lined the beach elbow-to-elbow near the water, disregarding all medical social-distancing recommendations.

We expected the beach to be crowded on a holiday weekend, but we also expected more from the beach-goers – simple common decency and sensible spacing during a pandemic.

We had invited friends over to join us on the beach, but had to cancel mid-day plans because it simply didn’t seem safe. There was no safe path to the water.

Rick Mathis, a Wayland city councilman, and his family are close friends of ours. We invited them out prior to knowing the crowding scene by the water.

Seems it wasn’t only a holiday weekend issue. Rick texted back: “Cindy took the girls out to the GH State Park yesterday and it was so packed with people not social distancing that they left right away. I know the girls wanted to stay and dig in the sand, but with the number of cases on the rise and the carelessness of those that are around the beaches, I’m afraid we’ll have to pass this go around.”

What does this kind of reputation do for our local businesses? The careless behavior casts shade. We don’t want Grand Haven to become known as a risky place to recreate, visit restaurants and retail.

The park employees wore masks as they worked in the hot sun. If only one of their jobs could be making sure people practice safe social distancing on the beach. If only we could all do our part to help stop the spread.

During the July 4 boat parade through the channel, I noticed a couple of vessels flying “don’t tread on me” flags. Seems like a perfect sentiment for those not following medically recommended recommendations to social distance and wear masks in public. Why should they tread on those of us who do try to follow state mandates and common-sense practice in an attempt to help keep everyone safe, from our youngest to our oldest and everyone in-between.

This is not political; this is medical. This is not liberty; this is life. This is not contentious; this is compassion.

Please don’t tread on your neighbors, your caregivers, your first responders, your restaurant workers, bankers and the rest of your community members who make a difference in your and your loved ones’ lives. Many of them wear masks for hours during a work shift to fight this country’s current enemy.

Please don’t tread with defiance and disrespect, and potentially expose them to a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease.

Yes, freedom means choice. How will we choose to interact with others? How far down this crowded, mask-less path, and how much upon other people’s safety, are we willing to tread?

You may contact Marie Havenga at mhavenga@grandhaventribune.com.

(3) comments


Very uniformed rhetoric. There is no medical proof that masks do anything other than give one a sense of unfounded security. This is fear mongering and political posturing at it's worst.

mhavenga Staff

Surgeons and every hospital staff member present in the operating room are required to wear masks before they open up your body in a sterile environment. Is that not "medical proof" enough? Next person you know, whether you, a friend or loved one who has a medical procedure, ask everyone in the OR to skip the mask because "there is no medical proof." Also, given your statement, please provide your proof. Thank you.


A great column, Marie - very well said! It's so simple, yet people want to make it complicated. Where a mask, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer when water and soap aren't available, and practice distancing. These simple public health steps will go a long way to controlling this pandemic sooner rather than later, so we all can move forward to a more normal routine. We are all in this together, and together either we will be the victors, or the virus will be. I prefer to win.

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