A flooring contractor came to our house this week to measure, wearing no mask.

Our dialogue went like this:

“Do you have one?”

“No.”

“OK. We can reschedule. Will you call?”

“Don’t know. I’ve been doing this since this nonsense started and I haven’t seen anyone sick yet.”

“Thank you, but we have friends who have died and been on ventilators, and we have compromised immune systems in our household.”

“Yeah, well, how many of them had underlying issues — and [he had a big number] people died from the flu and they didn’t say crap about that.”

In the United States, 122,000 people have died to date from COVID-19 in roughly four months, versus at most half than many from over the course of year from the flu. If facts matter.

Maybe I shouldn’t trust this man with a ruler anyway.

And why does the comparison even matter? If this year’s influenza strain or even the common cold were raging right now, I would expect a contractor to respect precautions, especially if asked by his would-be customer.

America’s mask wars are playing out, sometimes with no more than a judgmental glace and other times with the offer of fervent and unsolicited opinion.

A country already divided over so many things is divided over this, too.

I understand the resistance. No one likes the government telling us what to do. There was a time a half century ago when I and my fellow junior-high-school boys thought it was government overreach when the principal told us we must wear socks with our Weejuns. Could the stakes have been lower? Somewhere in the world beyond our bubble police were fire-hosing civil rights activists, who had raised their voices against an actual outrage.

Our bubble of security and ignorance then seems analogous to the anti-maskers’ bubble today — except here the contention over being told what to wear involves actual stakes, not a fashion statement.

I’ve heard all the arguments against masks, like the one that compares it to keeping the mosquitoes out of your yard with a chain-link fence. That one’s popular enough to be its own Google search. It shows up in a lot of anti-mask letters to the editor all over the country, as if the writers all heard it somewhere and took as fact even as they ignored the considered counsel of experts that masks contribute to the public health.

I’ll not get into the COVID numbers more than I already have. But on a personal level, I have a friend who is emergency-room physician. When I posted a selfie on Facebook early in the pandemic, of me in the social-distancing line waiting to get into Home Depot and wearing a mask, my daughter bought for me, (“Dad, wear this”) he counseled: “Now add safety glasses and gloves.” Something about seeing COVID-19’s toll day in and day out on the front lines makes you urge extra precaution.

I have another friend who works in hospitals in Europe, where COVID-19 also hit hard. When I told him of the flooring contractor, he didn’t hesitate: “I tell you what. When the flu season comes around, there aren’t going to be all these people in isolation and incubated like what I’ve seen in COVID.”

He describes horrific scenes of suffering, often alone. He added bluntly: “If people saw the inside of the COVID units like the ones I’ve been in, they’d wear a mask and not babout it.”

I’m in favor of reopening the economy but it must be done with care and certainly with acknowledgement of reality.

And what kind of a human being says, when told point-blank that the person with whom he’s in conversation knows people who have died or become gravely ill, responds that such people must have had underlying conditions? What’s his point? That they deserved to die?

Good health is a grace. He has his. Grace is not earned. It is a grace.

And we are finding a new flooring contractor.

Mark Neikirk, a former journalist at The Kentucky Post and The Cincinnati Post, lives in Crescent Springs. He is a member the Community Advisory Council of the Foundation for Healthy Kentucky.

Mark Neikirk, a former journalist at The Kentucky Post and The Cincinnati Post, lives in Crescent Springs. He is a member the Community Advisory Council of the Foundation for Healthy Kentucky.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.