From the halls of Congress to your local grocery store produce aisle, to the 2020 presidential campaign, masks and face coverings seem to be a more divisive topic than abortion or gun control. It’s more likely that Americans could come to reason on the latter two topics but still be unable to agree whether masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are necessary or should be mandated.
We were ahead of the curve highlighting this issue last month, and now it seems that as the number of Coronavirus infections continue to spread, spiking in some locations, the issue won’t be put to be anytime soon.
A recent NBC News story dove into the question at length, noting the types of confrontations happening around the country:
Sarah Curran was at a grocery store last week, browsing the soup aisle with a mask on, when a shopper without a face covering approached her and shook his head.
“You know COVID is a hoax,” the man said, according to Curran. “I don’t understand why people are still wearing masks.”
“You really want to argue this with me?” she asked the man after telling him what she does for a living.
“Normally, I’m not the confrontational type, but I just couldn’t hold it back,” Curran told NBC News. “This little old lady down the aisle was clapping, and the guy just kind of walked away.”
Across the country, there is a deepening divide between Americans who are firmly adhering to guidelines issued by public health officials to avoid the spread of the coronavirus and those who believe the recommendations are overkill, contradictory or just plain annoying.
In some cases, government officials have received threats when attempting to impose a mask order:
Masks, in particular, have become a flashpoint from coast to coast: In California, Orange County’s chief health officer recently resigned after she received death threats for her countywide mask order.
The state of New York followed eventually by Virginia, issued orders for statewide face coverings for all residents when in public places, such as grocery stores or other retail outlets. Other states have taken various approaches. Some requiring masks for certain businesses and employees and letting localities, such as cities like Los Angeles, impose a mask order on residents. Sometimes this includes customers, sometimes just employees.
The mangled patchwork of mask requirements varies almost county to county in some parts of the country, check this compiled list by Littler for details if you intend to do any traveling this summer.
Congress is split on the issue, somewhat along partisan lines but not entirely. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi mandated to all House committee leaders that masks are required during committee meetings because some Republicans weren’t wearing them:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially requested late Tuesday that congressional committee chairs require face masks at proceedings and bar lawmakers who fail to comply.
“For U.S. House of Representatives meetings in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes, face coverings are REQUIRED,” Capitol physician Dr. Brian Monahan wrote in a memo issued Tuesday.
The new requirement may come to a head Wednesday during the House Judiciary Committee vote on a police reform measure.
Members of the committee were seen wearing masks during their markup of the bill Wednesday, removing them at times to speak.
Most Congressmen and Senators wear masks around the building and on the floor of their respective chambers, removing them only to speak.
There is a split on masks over whether they’re effective, and whether they can or should be required. Some people believe they’re effective, but don’t believe they should be required. Some people believe they’re ineffective and therefore should never be required. The final group simply doesn’t care either way and isn’t participating in the face dress-up party.
The support for masks seems widespread, but the resistance is strong and perhaps equally as widespread. In one California county, a mandate from the county chairman to impose a mask order was voted down unanimously by the rest of the board:
But when Michael Tubbs, mayor of the county seat of Stockton, submitted an ordinance requiring residents to wear masks when they are in public, he did not get a single vote from the six other members of the city council.
It is “a political hazard to act in the interest of public health,” complained Tubbs, a liberal whose city has several conservatives on the council.
The “science,” in this case, seems pretty fleshed out. Politicians referring to “science” often becomes a political game of picking the science that best supports a particular point of view. In this case, however, with a virus that spreads primarily through the air, face coverings seem to make a difference according to a team from Texas A&M University:
“Our results clearly show that airborne transmission via respiratory aerosols represents the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19,” Zhang said. “By analyzing the pandemic trends without face-covering using the statistical method and by projecting the trend, we calculated that over 66,000 infections were prevented by using a face mask in little over a month in New York City. We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission.
It might be better if the researches laid off terms like “projecting” which is the result of modeling a particular set of data. So far, the models for Coronavirus have been all over the map, and perhaps one of the reasons the public at large isn’t listening as closely anymore. Once “Wolf!” is cried a few too many times, pushing numbers or based on models or projections become less and less impactful.
The real crux of the issue is individualism versus collectivism. Can state and local governments tell you what to do with your face, or should that be left up to the individuals to decide? Is there a “right to choose” on Covid-19 face masks?
Those proposing the mandatory mask orders will say that public health at large trumps your right to leave your face wide open for Covid infecting. They say it’s a minimal sacrifice for your freedom back. If you want to re-open, you must wear a mask.
On the other side, opponents fear a government with expanding power never seems to relinquish that power. If your county official or governor can tell you what to wear, they’ll never stop. What if they decide that next flu season when it gets bad, they’ll start mandating masks again, or perhaps every winter now that people are conditioned for it. For that question, will the mask orders ever be lifted at all? There is no time limit on the mask orders that have been implemented so far. If an executive order is simply accepted as a law, without a legislature, is that now rule by executive fiat?
One of the swirling questions is whether masks will be required at the upcoming Trump rally in Tulsa on Saturday. Initial reports indicate that masks will be optional, but available.
Even in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has worked to open the state’s economy quicker than some areas, and scoffed at a statewide imposition of face masks, will have some parts of the state that will require public masks for employees and customers alike:
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday local governments can require businesses to mandate customers and workers to wear face masks after one the state’s most populous counties ordered such a measure amid record numbers of new cases of coronavirus and hospitalizations.
The order for Bexar County, which includes the San Antonio area, takes effect Monday and businesses could face fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply.
Aside from the summer of civil unrest and racial tensions, add a good debate about being forced to wear face coverings into the mix. Can 2020 truly get more bizarre? I don’t think I want to know.