When seat belt laws were first passed in our local states, I remember thinking this was just another way the government was taking away my right to choose.


Of course, the first car I remember my family having, and several cars after that as I grew up, didn’t even have seat belts. According to wikipedia, car manufacturers were not required to install seat belts in their vehicles until 1968. I would have been 10 at that time, and my dad, who was a hard-working and frugal man, always bought what are now fancifully called "pre-owned" vehicles, so it was still several years after 1968 that we had a vehicle that actually had seat belts.


So I was not used to buckling up when I got in the car, and when seat belt laws went into affect I had already long been a driving adult. It took me a long time to remember to fasten my seatbelt every time I got in the car … all the while grumbling that it should be "my decision."


Fast forward to today, and scroll down your Facebook page. Once you get past all the annoying Trump/anti-Trump my-way-or-no-way comments, I would be willing to bet the second most common post you see has to do with the mask-or-no-mask debate.


While many of us who remember pre-seatbelt-law times were quite aware of the dangers of speeding down the highway with nothing to stop you from hurtling through the windshield should you meet with an unfortunate accident, today many of us are unsure of the affects this new and very unpredictable virus might have on ourselves or our loved ones.


Yes, we know many people have died from the virus or virus-related illnesses, and many more have spent weeks in medically-induced comas on a ventilator in a hospital, but on the other hand, we also know many have had the virus with little or no symptoms to inconvenience their lives.


And while we have been very lucky (or blessed, whichever way you choose to believe) in that this area has not been as hard hit as, say, New York or Texas, that blessing has also created a problem, as well. Because the affect of the virus in this area has been lighter, I find a lot of people have not been following the recommended safety guidelines in order to keep things that way.


And guess what? Our numbers - although still not staggering by any means - are going up.


But we CAN do something about that.


Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the CDC, said at one point that face masks are "one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus."


Now here’s where the seat belt mentality comes in.


I hear so many people complaining about, and absolutely refusing, to wear a mask - because to be required to wear one is taking away their right to choose.


I get it. I really do. The masks are uncomfortable and for those of us with old ears, they sometimes make it difficult to understand one another.


I don’t like wearing them either, and the ‘60s child that still lives inside me doesn’t like being told to wear them … just like I didn’t like being told to wear a seat belt.


But there’s one BIG difference.


If I would choose to not wear a seat belt - besides doing something illegal - I am endangering my own life but no one else’s wellbeing.


If I would choose not to wear a mask - should I become infected and asymptomatic - I am endangering everyone’s life that I come in contact with.


We just went through a long, dreary shutdown which helped "flatten the curve" of COVID-19. Once the curve started to flatten, however, states began to open back up, but because people were mostly not wearing masks or social distancing, the curve is once again on the upswing.


I know none of us wants to be forced back into a shutdown again. Not the business owner who lost his livelihood, not the worker who lost his job, and not the folks who could not visit aging parents in the nursing homes or ailing kids in the hospitals.


The fact of the matter is, we shouldn’t have to go back into quarantine if we take two simple precautions - wear a mask and/or keep six feet between us.


I know once things started reopening, many people celebrated by throwing parties, hitting the beaches, and hosting family gatherings for those whom they hadn’t been able to see face-to-face in months.


And yet, we are not able to go to any of the area fairs this summer, or to 4-H camp, Homefest, Apple Harvest, Autumn Glory, or even church.


Already some of the places that opened back up are being shot down.


Why? Because we didn’t follow the #$*%&@%$ rules (as Gov. Justice may or may not have said) and wear our masks.


If everyone would just wear a mask, or keep six feet apart, there should be no reason why we couldn’t get back to as close to normal as possible and actually go about our lives and the fun things we enjoy doing.


And our kids could get back to school!


Dr. Redfield said it this way: "All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities."


It’s not about our "right" to not wear a mask, it’s about our responsibility to take care of each other!


JUST WEAR THE MASK!


Liz Beavers is managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune and can be reached at lbeavers@newstribune.info.