By Shereen Siewert

Editor and Publisher, Wausau Pilot & Review

About six weeks ago, my husband and I both tested positive for COVID-19. We had been exceptionally careful since the pandemic began, but like so many others we wound up with it anyway. Unlike some people who are lucky enough not to experience serious symptoms, we were very, very ill.

At the height of my infection, I had a significant fever and uncontrollable body aches. My lungs felt as though they were on fire. Breathing was excruciating.

Finally, my oxygen level dipped to the point where I had to go to the hospital. My husband drove me there but he couldn’t come in with me. I’ll never forget the feeling of watching him turn and walk away, wondering if I was going to make it out of there, wondering if I’d ever see him or my children again. It was terrifying.

We’re okay now, though we still need a lot more sleep than we did before and we get tired pretty easily. We’re both thankful we didn’t join the thousands of other Wisconsin residents who didn’t make it. Most of all, we’re thankful that we weren’t anywhere near our parents or my sister, who is battling stage 4 lung cancer, when we were infectious. It would have killed them.

When I’m out in public, I’m frequently startled by the number of people not wearing masks. Let me be clear, though. I understand that those of you who don’t wear them aren’t evil people. I know that you’re holding onto values that we, as fellow Americans, hold dear to us. It’s one of the core beliefs this country was founded on: Don’t tread on me.

The right to choose individual freedoms and liberties is central to our democracy. No one likes government to tell them what to do.

But there is another motto that equally represents American values: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Essentially, all for one and one for all, a strong statement on the role of unity in this country. The idea that we are stronger together, stronger when we look out for one another instead of choosing to put our personal interests and priorities first.

I’d like to ask you to think about that for a moment.

All for one. One for all.

I bring this up because one major theme I hear when talking to friends who decline to wear masks in public is the refusal to live in fear. “If I get it, I get it,” they say.

I’m going to live my life. I’m not going to let this virus change my habits. I’m not afraid. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.

Of course. That makes perfect sense. Unless maybe – just maybe – it’s not really about you.

It isn’t just that your decision to not wear a mask could leave you personally vulnerable. After all, that really is your business. It’s that now your decision could kill someone. Someone you care about. Someone you love. Your mom. Your dad. Your child. Your best friend. You don’t live in a bubble. Your choices can affect the lives of the people around you.

I know there are people who still don’t believe masks work. I could go on and on about that, though I know and understand that what I say isn’t going change your mind, and that’s okay, too. But imagine for a moment that you unknowingly spread the virus to the person you love most in this world. That person gets terribly ill, then dies. The guilt is as crushing as the sense of loss. You’d give anything – anything at all – to have that person back.

Now imagine: What if that anything is something as simple as wearing a face covering?

Maybe the scientists are wrong, that the overwhelming number of studies that show masks do offer some protection are unreliable for one reason or another. But even if we reject science, why not try to protect the people we care about?

Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself which of the tenets of our democracy matter most to you. If it’s “Don’t tread on me,” I understand. I do.

But I’d rather live in a world where we come together to protect one another, to work together to beat this virus, to keep the people in our neighborhoods, our workplaces and our communities safe.

All for one. One for all.

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.