On occasion, a piece of writing in our paper generates a larger than normal amount of feedback from our readership. Last fall, the threat to Operation Turkey led to readers offering suggestions, support and financial relief to the nonprofit’s ability to feed the hungry and homeless. Readers have also been following Dr. Terry Hollenbeck’s health, and frequently write in when he provides an update on his treatment. Occasionally, we’ll receive a letter commending this very reporter for excellent work on a story (thank you to my children for those). On May 15th, our issue contained a column from the self-professed “CBD Guy,” one Tom Decker, owner of Las Nubes Santa Cruz. While freedom of speech is one of the tenets protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, ramifications from expressing one’s opinions are not, and so we were awash in letters from readers who were in strict opposition to this paper’s decision to publish Decker’s column. At issue was the following sentence from Decker which was quoted back to us in nearly every letter to the editor: “Let us not be so quick to comply with all the dictates of faceless hall monitors who demand that we must make sacrifices for the good of others.”


As I write this on Memorial Day, those words are even more meaningful, and more poignant. Currently, the globe is battling an infection that, as of today, has infected over 5.5 million people, and taken the lives of nearly 347,000 people. For comparison, the population of Santa Cruz County is just over 273,000. Imagine losing every neighbor, every student, every parent and coworker who lives in the county. Imagine entire towns wiped clean from humanity; that’s the impact of this loss of human lives. Here in Santa Cruz County, we’ve had a slight uptick in cases due to exposure shared at gatherings in Aptos and Watsonville, but overall, the numbers in the county have remained very low in comparison to other California locales.


There are a few reasons for that. For one, Santa Cruz County has the blessing of housing in unincorporated areas, which results in more sprawl and spread between homes. Lack of density creates naturally imposed social distancing, which is a common denominator in slowing the spread of the virus. Governor Newsom’s dictates regarding the closure of beaches and state parks kept visitors from congregating, which also contained the damage from the virus. Restaurants remain open for take-out only, and nonessential businesses that have been given the green light to open are mandating mask usage and limiting the number of visitors to their stores. In addition, county residents have seen the impact that the virus has had in other cities and states, and the response has been to largely abide by the recommendations of the CDC and other directorial bodies.


So it’s a gut-punch to read that a local small business owner wants us to disregard those “faceless hall monitors” as we move to limit the viability of COVID-19 in our neighborhoods. Mr. Decker has every right to his beliefs, and an equal right to share them in whatever format he sees as relevant. In response, our readers are also granted with the freedom to share their feedback on Decker’s beliefs, and they did so in spades. Generally, those who wrote to express their dismay were not only critical of Decker’s opinions, but also of the Press Banner for opting to run his submission.


It’s important to remember that our paper reflects the voices of our community. Sometimes, those voices are powerful and easy to align with. We celebrate the successes of some, grieve for the losses of others, and unite in a common goal to remain informed and engaged. By writing his column, Decker has given our readers the ultimate power: to respond with their own voices. Was our editor obligated to run his piece? Absolutely not. But the decision to do so comported with the paper’s mission of keeping its readers informed and engaged; his opinions may not have been popular, or reflected the beliefs of the majority of our readers, but they were his, and his right to express them is his as well.


Our country has a long and storied history of making sacrifices for the good of others; it’s exactly why Memorial Day is observed as a national holiday. It’s why tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery are festooned with American flags by groups who want the memory of their sacrifices to remain. It’s why there is a changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and why pilots and members of the military salute when the casket of a troop lost in battle is removed from the cargo hold of a plane. It’s the reason that we thank those who have served—because they did so at their own peril, and in an effort to protect the people and uphold the ideals of the United States of America.


Today, there is a new assemblage of frontline troops working to protect the homeland: nurses, doctors, EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, and every color and stripe of those who are employed in jobs that have been deemed essential. They are being tasked with the most horrific of heavy lifts: to put themselves in harm’s way in order to serve the population. While they are being asked to remain at work, the rest of the populace is being directed to do something decidedly less dangerous: wear a mask to slow the spread of the disease.


Our freedoms were built by the sacrifices of others, and those sacrifices were daunting and meaningful in their execution. If the wearing of a mask seems too heavy an expectation as we battle a virus that has killed over 100,000 Americans, it may be time to reevaluate your beliefs. Readers: share your voice, spread the science, and wear a mask as we move into the next phase of our collective battle to emerge from this deadly contagion. Let not the memory of those who perished be in vain.


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