I'm a Kansas Lawmaker and Doctor. Wearing a Mask Isn't About Politics. It's About Protecting Lives | Opinion

When I was practicing medicine, every day started with tying the strings of my mask behind my head, then securing it in place with a pinch across my nose.

Protective masks can get uncomfortable, especially after hours and hours of time in surgery. Your face itches. Your glasses fog up. It gets stuffy. But I always kept mine on, not just because it was the rule—but because I had a responsibility to keep my patients safe.

As an anesthesiologist, my duty was to make sure people were comfortable, and in as little pain possible, during what was often among the most vulnerable moments of their life. I took that responsibility incredibly seriously, and that included making sure that my patients were always protected from anything that could potentially hurt them while on the operating table, including my inadvertent cough or sneeze.

My heart is breaking for those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus—for those who have lost family members and friends, and for those who are wondering how they are going to pay for the electricity bill or rent.

It can feel hopeless.

But a way that we can take action, a way that we, as individuals, can do something to help our communities, is to do the simple things. The things that medical experts are begging us to do.

That's why we should listen to infectious disease experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They recommend—as we have heard countless times during this crisis—that we all wash our hands, maintain social distancing if we can and, yes, wear masks when we are out in public.

Most of us are unfamiliar with wearing the type of equipment it takes to keep our communities healthy right now. After a few years retired from medicine and serving in the state legislature, I too had to adjust to wearing a mask again. But right now, as we face a virus that has killed over 100,000 Americans and sent so many others to the hospital with respiratory, cardiovascular and other dangerous symptoms, we all have a duty to protect others.

It's frustrating to see some elected officials make mask-wearing into a political wedge issue. There is nothing political about each of us doing our part to protect the people around us during the worst health crisis of our lifetimes. And it needs to be said: We should never politicize a tragedy like this.

To be clear, I don't wear a mask to protect myself. It's true that there's a chance I could come in contact with someone with the virus and contract it despite my own protection. That's a risk we are all taking every time we go out in public—even on necessary errands like to the grocery store. And that's why experts are recommending we limit contact as much as possible, which we can help do by wearing a mask.

We wear masks to protect others. We know people can carry this virus even without presenting symptoms. I wear a mask to limit the possibility of unknowingly spreading it to older Kansans, immunosuppressed people, those with pre-existing conditions or anyone else.

This is an incredibly difficult and scary time. Our economy has taken a devastating hit, and people are suffering. It is essential for our elected officials to come together and find bipartisan solutions to help small businesses, make sure people have access to resources that will help them pay bills and put food on their tables, and ensure access to affordable health care.

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A U.S. Army lieutenant colonel wears a face mask on the South Lawn of the White House on May 25 in Washington, D.C. Sarah Silbiger/Getty

While we advocate for our government to help our communities heal economically, we all need to do our part to continue to slow the spread of this virus—to help us get back to our new normal.

That's why I wear a mask to the grocery store, to the pharmacy and whenever I'm out in public. I know it's not very comfortable. I don't enjoy it. I want to see everyone's faces, just like I want to be able to shake hands and hug my neighbors and travel across Kansas, visiting with people in person.

But first, do no harm. I won't take the chance that I might cause additional suffering. And neither should you. When I was practicing medicine, my job was to protect the patient on the operating table. Our job today is to protect everyone in our community as best we can.

Barbara Bollier is a retired anesthesiologist and a Kansas state senator representing the 7th District. She is a member of the Democratic Party, having left the Republican Party in 2018. She is a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the state of Kansas.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.