Something happened the last week in April. I went to my local hardware store to get some stuff. I noticed members of the staff were not wearing COVID masks. Most of the shoppers were guys, and only two out of 10 were wearing masks. I was. I always have and always will because I'm 69 and in excellent health, but who knows. I could be asymptomatic. I wear a mask to protect you.

So, I'm at the aisle getting my stuff. One aisle over is the paint station and I overhear the following conversation:

“There's not enough teal in the blue. Can't you make it more teal?” The young man mixing the paint told her that he mixed it exactly to specs. “But I want more teal.” And then she started to cough. It was a deep, rattling cough and she apologized saying she was "getting a cold.” Back to the paint: “Are you sure I can't get...” cough, cough “...more teal?”

I had to see, not only the woman who was rude to the paint dude, but the woman who was oblivious to the fact that we were in the heightened awareness stage of the COVID virus spread and that social distancing and wearing masks were scientifically proven ways to flatten the curve. I knew I had to be careful about approaching her--or if I should approach her at all--to remind her of this pandemic thing. Judgement prevailed and I kept my mouth shut.

On May 24, Gov. Doug Burgum was featured on international media channels and sites for his emotional plea to keep the issue of Americans wearing masks to not be a political issue. “Wearing a COVID mask is not a Blue or Red statement. They're wearing a mask perhaps because their 5-year-old child is suffering through cancer treatment or that an older adult is vulnerable because someone in their life struggling with COVID. There is no place for mask shaming,” he said.

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Burgum's raw and direct statement, as a staunch Republican, carries a sense of gravity to a political party that has blatantly ignored the science of this pandemic.

The CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important in the event that someone is infected but does not have symptoms.

So simple. Implications so profound.

Many have been celebrating the relaxation of what they consider to to be strict, unnecessary and the un-Constitutional restriction of personal rights. To you “mask shamers” think about this: The U.S. has logged 1,685,105 cases of COVID and suffered 99,283 deaths. Each death significant and heartbreaking. The pandemic is no joke. No hoax. It's an epidemic that is going to change life forever. For all of us.

So lady at the hardware store and you mask shamers, understand this: I'm not wearing a mask to make a statement. I'm not wearing a mask to protect myself. I'm wearing a mask to protect you. Get it? Now own it.