Why can’t we accept masks like we do other public health and safety rules?

We're willing to impose rules for food safety. Why not face masks? (Photo by LukeTDB/Getty Images)

Not that you asked, but the list of things I dislike goes well beyond liver and onions, “Rocky Mountain oysters,” drivers who tailgate, and people who chew with their mouths open.

Until this year, the list did not include people who refuse to wear masks.

But with coronavirus moving through hospitals, care centers, bars and restaurants, sports teams, large gatherings and schools, the anti-maskers now have a spot on my list.

I now have no patience with those who insist that refusing to wear a mask is something of a constitutional right, that no-way-no-how will they let the government tell them what to do.

Five million people and counting have contracted the potentially fatal disease in the United States. The number of deaths has surpassed 160,000 and is headed for an estimated 250,000 by year’s end. In Iowa, we are nearing 50,000 confirmed cases, and the number of deaths has surpassed 930.

The public health experts on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force all say that wearing a face-covering can slow the spread of the disease while drug researchers work to find a vaccine that will immunize people against the virus.

But it’s not just freedom-loving Joe Citizen and Jane Citizen who are on my pet peeve list. Right next to them are the sheriffs in three Wisconsin counties, who made baffling statements last week when that state’s governor ordered people to wear masks as part of Wisconsin’s public health emergency mitigation steps.

The Florence County sheriff told people they could wear a mask if they want to or not wear one if that’s their preference. The Oneida County sheriff said the governor’s emergency order violated the constitution. Racine County’s sheriff said the order was “government overreach.”

A doctor at a Wisconsin hospital told the Guardian newspaper, “In the present climate, I think this is unstoppable, and a lot more people are going to die than would have if politics didn’t get in the way of health.”

The same Guardian article reported that the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has predicted Iowa Gov. Kim Reynold’s refusal to make masks mandatory in public spaces will cost 700 more lives over the next three months.

The institute predicted the number of coronavirus deaths will average fewer than two per day by the end of October if 95% of Iowans wore masks. Only about one-third of Iowans now wear masks.

The comments by the Wisconsin sheriffs left me scratching my head, because there are all sorts of government requirements that were imposed to protect the public health and safety, and you don’t have to look far to find people who dislike them or think they are government overreach.

People riding in the front seats of cars and trucks are required to wear seat belts — even though some think the requirement intrudes on their freedom to travel as they please.

The speed limit on most sections of Interstate highways in Iowa is 70 mph — even though some drivers chafe at not being able to drive faster and believe they can do so safely.

Iowa prohibits people from driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more — even though there are drivers who swear they can drive safely after consuming more alcohol than that.

It’s not just driving laws that Iowans have to abide by, whether they like the statute or not.

There are hunters who don’t understand why they can’t shoot deer whenever they want and why the state limits many deer they can take. There are business owners who still don’t like having to serve customers who are Black. Or gay.

A woman named Libby Jones hit a receptive chord on Twitter with a series of postings about a place she calls the Freedom Cafe.

She wrote: “We trust you to make your own choices if you want to wear a face mask. And, in the same spirit of individual liberty, we allow our staff to make their own choices about the safety procedures they prefer to follow as they prepare and serve your food.

“We encourage employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom but understand that some people may be allergic to certain soaps or may simply prefer not to wash their hands. It is not our place to tell them what to do.”

The same goes for the temperature meat should be cooked to, she said, or for the procedures employees follow for washing and sanitizing dishes.

Then she drove home her point in a way that should stop those Wisconsin sheriffs and Gov. Kim Reynolds in their tracks and cause them to rethink their view that masks should be optional:

“Some of you may get sick, but almost everyone survives food poisoning. We think you’ll agree that it’s a small price to pay for the sweet freedom of no one ever being told what to do — and especially not for the silly reason of keeping strangers healthy.”

Stay well — and wear a mask. You will still be free when this epidemic is behind us.