Ashburnham, MA

COVID-safety rule #1: Please do not spit at people. OK?

American Household News.

AHN - News Analysis

A Massachusetts hiker's shocking encounter with a man who spit at her for not wearing a mask outdoors is the latest incident to highlight the mental stress, fatigue and outright anger the COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting on Americans.

It's also a lesson in how basic human decency can be quickly eroded when tempers flare in this unprecedented environment of public health crisis and sharply divided communities.

Hale D. Powell: accused of spitting at hiker and claiming he had COVID-19

According to police reports and news accounts of the incident, the female hiker and a companion were approached on a trail in Ashburnham, MA by an older male hiker and scolded for not wearing masks. While the trail was sparsely occupied at the time and in an area of wide open space, Massachusetts residents are currently under an order to wear masks at all times in all public places - indoors and outdoors.

Angry encounter on Massachusetts hiking trail took an unexpected turn ...

The man, identified by police as 71-year-old Hale D. Powell, engaged in an argument and then briefly walked away to re-join a woman he was walking with.

"Selfish is what it is. Completely irresponsible," Powell told the hiker as he walked away. But moments later he returned and began moving toward the other two hikers, removed his mask and spit several times.

"Ok I have COVID," Powell said, according to video of the incident, as he spit at the hiker and her companion. "I've been tested positive," he said - and then spit again.

One of the hikers asked: "Are you OK?"

Powell responded: "No, and you won't be soon," as he spit at them for a final time.

Watch the shocking video that was released by local Ashburnham, MA police here:

Local police told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that they are seeing more situations escalate in ways that they haven't seen before the global pandemic and peristent cloud of COVID-19 disrupted the American way of life starting in March 2020.

“Everybody’s under a lot of stress with the situation going on in our country; in the world," Asburnham Police Chief Loring Barrett told the Telegram & Gazette. “We’re seeing situations escalate beyond what we usually see."

Powell faces serious charges as a result of the allegations, including assault and battery and issuing a false threat of a biological agent.

While the spitting incident is a troubling new wrinkle as far as extreme COVID-cautious behavior, it's just one more recent example of how the pandemic is driving Americans to the emotional and behavioral edge.

Bitter arguments, fistfights and all-out brawls have broken out on airplanes, at gas stations and in other public places over the wearing of masks and other pandemic-related issues.

Shoppers are throwing tantrums, launching into wild tirades and throwing violent fits when being asked to wear facemasks by store management.

And like the situation which now has 71-year-old Hale Powell of Massachusetts in trouble with the law, overzealous citizens are going too far when it comes to calling on others to mask up - with one man even going so far as to pull a gun on a maskless shopper.

"People are definitely exhibiting more anger," says Harvard Medical School psychology expert David Rosmarin. "People are more on edge and one of the ways that they express that is through anger, which obviously is not healthy."

Rosmarin discussed "pandemic-fueled anger" in an August interview with Harvard Gazette writer Alvin Powell - explaining that "the real core of someone telling another to put on a mask is fear."

"We’re living, in effect, in a big anger incubator,” University of California Irvine psychology professor Raymond Novaco told the Washington Post in June.

Some of the anger Americans are experiencing is almost certainly a result of the sharp cultural and political divide separating people - not just between regions, but within their own communities.

A post-election poll conducted by Seven Letter Insight revealed some of the most overwhelming evidence and data that we are a nation of people fiercely pitted against each other over political leanings and ideology.

Among Democratic and Republican voters alike, the Voter Priorities Survey found 8 out of 10 voters on both sides have lost respect for the other since 2016. Three quarters of those polled said they are less likely to trust the other side.

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