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Sporting a mask and an umbrella, a customer heads into the parking lot while looking for her car at the Target store on Siegen Lane Monday in Baton Rouge. Most shoppers appear to follow social-distancing rules, our columnist writes.

The guy follows behind me into the grocery store with three children tagging along. The sign at the entrance of the Central area grocery store in Baton Rouge clearly says that all persons entering must wear a mask.

Neither the bearded gentleman nor the three children are wearing masks. They grab a basket and start going around the store. Apparently, in his eyes, masks are for chumps, or maybe some infringement on his rights. What a great life lesson, though, for the children that disobeying some rules are cool.

Their lack of masks stood out because all of the other customers and the store employees were wearing them. I’m very sensitive about masks because three friends have died of COVID-19 in the past two months.

More importantly, the nearly 7 million cases of the virus and 202,000 deaths nationwide — and over 5,400 in Louisiana — attributed to COVID-19 makes me smart about trying to save myself and others. Plus, I don’t want to be one of those people suffering with COVID-19 and pleading with the public to wear masks because I didn’t.

Scientists and physicians recommend wearing masks in public settings because it helps stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.

Call me crazy, but I tend to follow rules that science and good sense says can help other people. It’s why I turn my car lights on at night and wear clothes in public.

The unmasked children, a little girl about 6 years old and two boys, around 10 and 12 years old, initially walked near the man I assumed was their dad. But the boys started to venture away shortly.

A few customers stared at the group. I wonder if they, like me, thought that the man could be a spreader and the children asymptomatic spreaders. A couple of customers moved away as they traversed an aisle. Several others didn’t seem to care. Good for them.

I left the quartet, afraid that the children would start coughing or sneezing COVID-19 in my direction. It could happen. Folks that catch the virus don’t usually get to call the person(s) that passed it to them, so spreaders go merely along, doling out sickness and death and never know it.

After a few minutes, I expected someone from store management to confront the group, to ask them to mask up or leave. Then, I was reminded of the poor teenage restaurant worker in Baton Rouge who was beaten because a group of customers didn’t like her suggestion of social distancing rules.

Three people were arrested in that case. (I wonder if the women hit the guards when they were ordered to maintain social distancing at the jail?)

With that in mind, I guessed those employees feared they could be risking their health in more ways than one if they confronted the customer. It was a lot to ask of the young essential workers already putting their health and those of others on the line to stock shelves, clean floors and check out groceries for minimum wage.

I did my due diligence by trying to get my shopping done without crossing paths with the “I-don’t-care-about-you” dude and his three little followers.

But at one point I arrived on an aisle where I saw the boys and their leader grabbing cookie boxes and other stuff and putting them back on the shelves. One was a pack of Lorna Doones. Dang it. Nope, don’t need cookies and crackers.

Minutes later, I’m out of the store. As I am leaving, wouldn’t you know it, the group of four unmasked get in a pickup truck and there is a woman, I guess mom, already in the front passenger seat.

I pray for them and everyone they came in contact with at my favorite grocery store. And I hope I’m never at the store when they are there again.

Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.