It’s not a partisan or cultural symbol, not a sign of weakness or virtue.
By Chris Christie
For seven months I was very careful about mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing. As someone with asthma, I knew I faced heightened risk. Then, at the Rose Garden nomination event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and during debate preparations with President Trump, I let my guard down and left my mask off. I mistook the bubble of security around the president for a viral safe zone. I was wrong. There is no safe zone from this virus.
Three days after the presidential debate, I still felt fine. Then-all within 24 hours came the fever, chills and body aches, severe pain and utter exhaustion, and hospitalization in the intensive-care unit. A week in the ICU offers time to reflect. I was fortunate to have good insurance, a fine hospital and the latest treatments. But I was also conscious of the virus’s unpredictability. My doctors came in twice a day, told me I was doing better, and warned me that I could take a turn for the worse at any minute. Everyone in the hospital with Covid hangs on a thin thread.
When you get this disease, it hits you how easy it is to prevent. We are asked to wear cloth
over our mouth and nose, wash our hands and avoid crowds. These minor inconveniences can save your life, your neighbors and the economy. Seldom has so little been asked for so much benefit. Yet the message will be broadly heeded only if it is consistently and honestly delivered by the media, religious leaders, sports figures and public servants. Those in positions of authority have a duty to get the message out.
One of the worst aspects of America’s divided politics is the polarization of something as practical as a mask. It’s not a partisan or cultural symbol, not a sign of weakness or virtue. It’s simply a good method-not a perfect one, but a proven one-to contain a cough or prevent the virus from getting in your mouth or nose. Wear it or you may regret it-as I did.
This doesn’t settle the larger political and scientific debate on how fast to reopen businesses and institutions. I remain a supporter of both strong public-health measures and rapid reopening. If leaders level with the American people, we can trust in the outcome. When Americans are given proper and consistent information, they will overwhelmingly make good health choices, including the wearing of masks. But that doesn’t work if partisan media and public officials send mixed messages.
Those who deny the scientific realities of the pandemic undermine conditions that allow for rapid and complete reopening. They encourage behavior that invites personal tragedy and social regulation. People need encouragement to do the right thing, not excuses not to. A Covid Collaborative poll found that while 86% of Americans think mask-wearing in public places is effective, only half are wearing masks 90% of the time.
Even during a contentious election year, we must trust the American people with the truth. I do believe that we can use this public health tragedy to bring our country together. It is never too late to start. It will take leadership that both challenges and trusts the American people.
It is never comfortable to deliver real criticism that includes yourself. But it was a serious failure for me, as a public figure, to go maskless at the White House. I paid for it, and I hope Americans can learn from my experience. I am lucky to be alive. It could easily have been otherwise.
Chris Christie served as governor of New Jersey, 2010-18.