Complaints of locals being ridiculed, and even assaulted, for wearing protecting face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic have been occurring more and more often. Over the past few weeks, many residents of Hendry County have been following the CDC safety recommendations, by wearing cloth face coverings while in public.
As stated on the CDC website, “CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States. We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Wearing these face coverings is recommended, but voluntary, and as we see the numbers of cases climbing, more and more people have chosen to wear them. Unfortunately, a few individuals apparently disagree with this practice, and have taken action to show their displeasure by verbally harassing and in at least one case, physically threatening those who choose to wear masks.
“I just want everyone to know in case it happens again, hopefully someone else reacts better than I did,” said one woman, as she described her scary experience, “Yesterday, around one in the afternoon at our LaBelle Walmart, I was shopping for my groceries minding my business when I noticed a guy who looked to be about in his forties, wearing a black tank top with a camo hat, walking behind me. I did a quick glance behind me and looked away not thinking anything out of the ordinary, he was a distance behind me. I guess as I looked back he noticed I was wearing a mask and that must have triggered him along with the fact that we were alone in that isle. He started laughing and not in a haha funny way. I looked back again because this guy sounded creepy as hell and that’s when he sped up to get right next to me so I sped up too to get away from him. He then proceeded to cough and spit all over me on purpose, all over my hair and back yelling “all you stupid I hope you all get sick” or something to that effect.”
She was in shock, and said it all happened so fast, “It took a second for my brain to register what had just happened to me. I started yelling all kinds of profanities at him and he walked away laughing. I found the nearest employees I could and explained what had just happened and they grabbed a security guard quickly who ran and tried to find the guy. I was honestly so shaken that I didn’t stick around to find out. I have an autoimmune disease so that fact that someone deliberately tried to spit and cough all over me, knowing what we’re all going through rattled me. I was panicking and I just wanted to get out of there and go home and clean myself.”
“The employees at Walmart did their best to help me and I’m so grateful to them. I’m more mad at myself for not ramming him with my cart or chasing after him yelling till someone came,” she explained. “I hope no one has to go through that again. Or he gets what he deserves. There was literally no need for that to happen. I definitely will not be going to the store anymore. Accompanied or other wise. I just rather not. People are just crazy.”
When asked about whether or not the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office could help, Steve Whidden replied in a Facebook comment, “Yes, Walmart has great cameras, and if she would file a complaint with us, we can proceed.”
Other residents have had similar experiences. None wishing to be named, for fear of retaliation.
“While I was at Winn Dixie, I was given a harsh and loud lecture about how stupid I was for wearing a mask, and even asked why, if I am so scared of getting sick, do I dare come out in public in the first place. It made me very uncomfortable.” One woman reported, about her experience while buying things for her immunodeficient client who has been going through treatment for cancer.
A local nurse commented in solidarity, “I have had some incidents while shopping for essential items in Clewiston, too. But, I’m also a health professional,” she added, “Those doing and saying these things, might want to think twice, I wear a mask to protect others from my own possible exposure, not for myself.”
When asked why, with the more serious attacks, they hadn’t made official reports to law enforcement, many responded with the same answers. They were scared, overwhelmed, and just wanted to get back home. They had so many other things they needed to take care of, and even felt that maybe their complaints might not be taken seriously. A few even said that they would not be returning to a store anytime soon, as they just didn’t feel safe after these encounters.
“The bottom line, masks are worm by choice. If you don’t want to wear one, then don’t. But why attack me if I choose to do so?” said the woman who had been attacked while shopping at Walmart. “It seems like we could all just make more of an effort to be kind, during these terrible times, or at least mind your own business.”