Editor’s Note: Last week the New York Times published an article reported from Annville titled, Trump May Have Covid, but Many of His Supporters Still Scoff at Masks. LebTown invited a few different members of the Annville community to share their thoughts on this reporting.

Travel to any small town in America and it won’t be hard to find a foolish person or three. But that doesn’t mean that small town America is filled with fools.

In his October 6 story datelined Annville, PA, New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel didn’t have to stray too far from the only stoplight in town to find a maskless Tim Girvin having lunch at Ted’s Bar & Grille. “I don’t buy into it,” Girvin told the reporter. “When you look at the facts, with how many people die of influenza every year. Obesity kills more people than the Wuhan virus does.”

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that wearing a face mask to protect oneself and one’s fellow community members from a deadly virus that’s spreading like wildfire around the globe—an airborne pathogen for which there’s no vaccine and no cure—has become such a political football across the nation and right here in our own backyard. Or that so many people, locally and nationwide, have bought into the president’s ridiculous, made-up nonsense about the virus and the efficacy of mask wearing.

But when our local public officials buy into the same nonsense – and trumpet their foolishness across social media—it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of that foolishness trickles down into the larger community.

For me the emblematic moment came on July 9, when PA State House Representative Russ Diamond tweeted a meme proclaiming that “A Masked Child Is an Abused Child.” Hard to get any more foolish or reckless than that.

Then there’s the whole sad Taste of Sicily spectacle and the $12.8 million CARES funds withholding fiasco—such an embarrassment to our county, when our local public officials behave with such wanton recklessness.

But that’s not the whole story. To get a fuller and more accurate picture of the common sense and practical wisdom that on the whole characterize the people of the Lebanon Valley, the New York Times reporter should have walked down the block from Ted’s Bar & Grille to the only stoplight in town on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon 4-5 p.m. this past summer and fall.

There, at Annville’s main intersection, the reporter would have found that at every one of the 50 Black Lives Matter protest actions that we’ve staged (so far) since June 5, every single participant was wearing a mask. This fact of universal mask-wearing among the participants of the protests organized by the Annville Town Square Protesters for Racial Justice is amply documented by the more than 1,000 photographs posted on my Facebook page.

I invite members of the public to scroll through all the photos on my Facebook page documenting the Black Lives Matter protests in the Annville Town Square over the past months and find a single photo of a single protester not wearing a face mask. Good luck.

Or, the Times reporter might have walked past the only stoplight in town and onto the campus of Lebanon Valley College. There, he would have found a college campus laden with signage making very clear that face masks are required in most outdoor spaces and inside all buildings. He would have seen students, staff, and faculty all rigorously adhering to the masking requirements.

I’m very proud of Lebanon Valley College for its exceptionally rigorous and, so far, highly successful efforts to combat the coronavirus and keep it from spreading. At the current writing, we’re at the tail end of the eighth week of fall semester, and as far as we know not a single case of Covid-19 has been contracted by anyone on campus (the only case among our students so far was contracted off campus; interested readers can learn more about our campus efforts on a dedicated web page, here).

The politicized foolishness practiced by a good number of our public officials here in the Lebanon Valley, and the trickling down of that foolishness to some members of our community, does not mean that the Lebanon Valley is populated by a bunch of ignorant rubes.

A deeper dig by Times reporter Trip Gabriel would have revealed a richer, more well-rounded, and more accurate portrait of a community characterized, in the main, by thoughtful, well-informed people who care about their neighbors as much as they care about themselves.

And who, when in public, wear their face masks.

Michael Schroeder is Associate Professor of History at Lebanon Valley College and the Organizer of the Annville Town Square Protesters for Racial Justice.

Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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