A Zoom video call with the Kesslers A Zoom video call with the Kesslers

A Michigan military family shares how they view the responsibility to keep their neighbors safe during COVID-19. Here’s how the Kesslers are helping.

BEVERLY HILLS, Mich.—Ret. Lance Cpl. Jeff Kessler is a proud father, husband, and American. A retired Marine, he’s quite familiar with the country’s storied pillars of liberty and individual freedom.

But when people try to bring those arguments to bear in protest of masks or vaccine rules, he gets frustrated.

“To me the real patriots in this country are the ones who look out for their brothers and sisters and take care of each other,” Kessler said.

Jeff and Nicole Kessler live with their son, Eli, in Beverly Hills, Michigan, a Southeastern suburban town of 10,000. Like just about everyone, they’re itching to get out of the pandemic—which they say is why they mask in public and follow health guidance from experts.

COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of contracting the virus, the CDC says. Despite a spate in breakthrough infections, they also still greatly reduce the chance of getting severely sick.

“We as people sometimes take that anecdotal, human-connection information more seriously than the numbers of the millions of people who have been safely vaccinated,” Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a public health official in Washtenaw County, said in an interview with The ‘Gander for a separate story.

Because of the still-spiking Delta variant, experts at the state and national levels are asking people to mask indoors in crowded areas, like grocery stores and schools. The Michigan Academy of Family Physicians has recommended universal masking at schools.

In their community, the Kesslers say it’s about a 50-50 split at the grocery store between who’s masking and who’s not, but there are very few vocal opponents to common sense health guidelines. Too often, they say, those voices are the ones amplified.

At school, 10-year-old Eli Kessler masks, as he’s instructed to by Birmingham Public Schools. He says he really doesn’t mind it, and few kids do. The one time he feels any sort of friction with the mask is when it “overheats” outside. But there, he says, you can just pull it down for a second and regroup. The CDC agrees with his policy.

MORE: Hate: The Unintended Side Effects of COVID-19 and How Michigan is Coping

When asked if kids in his grade talk much about the issue of masks, he responds “not really.” Though he’d love to be out of the pandemic too, in the short term, masks aren’t top of mind.

“We tend to talk about the latest trends and stuff like that. Kids stuff, you know,” he told The ‘Gander.

Jeff Kessler runs a car dealership. It’s a pretty conservative environment, at times, but most everyone there gets why masks are smart policies indoors. Though there’s no written policy to wear masks at work, most of Kessler’s colleagues put on their mask when getting up from their desks; it’s common courtesy.

“To me, the answer to it’s simple,” Jeff Kessler said. “You’re doing the patriotic thing and you are exercising liberty by looking out for your neighbors.”

MICHIGAN NEWS: Michigan’s New Top Doctor: Meet Natasha Bagdasarian

Between the extremes, the Kesslers say most people get it. While Nicole Kessler may differ from members of her family politically, she said everybody has come around to the same conclusion on COVID-19 health protocols. The quickest way to get out of this virus is by following safe health guidance led by experts, they agree.

“Even my family who might not be on board with the rest of politics tend to agree with me on masking,“ Nicole Kessler said.

Nicole Kessler is in a Facebook group that tracks mask-wearing across the state. Recently, she posted a petition that she’s a part of, asking the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue a statewide mask requirement for K-12 schools. 

Currently, the decision is left up to districts and counties. More than 60% of Michigan students are in schools requiring masks.

Ask 10-year-old Eli Kessler, and he’s on board.

“You don’t want anything to get in. And you don’t necessarily want anything to get out,” he explains.

IN SCHOOLS: ‘Triumphant Return’: The Sound of Being Back in School for One Michigan Community