COVID-19: The Fight Over Masks
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Throughout the first half of 2020, the news has focused largely on one thing in particular: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the subject matter has been consistent, specific details and guidelines have been anything but. This is particularly true where masks are concerned.
Mixed Messaging on Masks
During the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak, most citizens were explicitly advised not to wear masks. The U.S. Surgeon General, on February 29th, tweeted a warning, “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” It was not enough to stop consumers from rushing out to buy personal protective equipment, but it certainly confused the conversation around masks and their efficacy.
Through March, it was understood that only affected individuals and anyone working or living with affected individuals should wear masks. On April 4th, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House updated their official policy on COVID-19 mitigation. “The CDC is recommending Americans wear a basic cloth or fabric mask,” the president announced. At the time, he made a point to note that wearing a mask was still “voluntary.” He did not wear one publicly until a July 11th visit to Walter Reed Hospital.
It’s still not clear whether or not President Trump intends to begin wearing a mask regularly. Speaking to Chris Matthews, he acknowledged that masks can be effective, but rejected the idea of a national mandate. He also disagreed with CDC Director Robert Redfield’s suggestion that such a mandate could “drive this epidemic to the ground” within a few months.
Recent weeks have seen COVID-19 cases and deaths surge across the nation. A number of states and cities have updated their reopening plans and the European Union announced earlier this month that Americans would not be permitted to enter until further notice. Projections from the University of Washington suggest that, if nothing changes, the U.S. can expect the death toll to reach 224,000 by November. 95% mask use could reduce these numbers considerably.
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The Anti-Mask Crowd
Among American citizens, the partisan divide on masks has remained fairly consistent since April. 66% of Republicans and 98% of Democrats reported wearing masks outside their homes during the last week of June. This suggests that a majority of Republicans are willing to comply with mask mandates or even proactively wear one. Nevertheless, many Republican politicians are now at the forefront of anti-mask arguments.
Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has taken an especially aggressive stance in fighting mask regulations. In addition to suspending all local mask mandates across the state, he filed a lawsuit challenging the mayor of Atlanta’s authority to enforce a city-wide regulation. He’s not alone in his opposition to blanket mandates. Even after testing positive for the virus, Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt announced that he was still against enforcing mask requirements at the state or national level.
The Pro-Mask Crowd
Kemp and Stitt are part of a vocal minority. More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have introduced (or reintroduced) mandates requiring mask use in public. These mandates straddle the party line, with both deep red and deep blue states enforcing them.
In addition to state and local governments, many retail chains have introduced mask mandates in response to rising infections. These include Lowe’s, Aldi, Costco, and Wal-Mart. In an official statement, the country’s largest retailer announced, “We appreciate the understanding and appreciation of our customers and members in wearing face covering to protect their safety and the safety of our associates.”
On July 20th, Surgeon General Jerome Adams joined the pro-mask crowd in a “Fox and Friends” interview. Emphatically reversing his earlier recommendations, Adams appealed to citizens who consider masks a personal affront. “I’m pleading with your viewers,” he told the hosts, “please understand that we are not trying to take away your freedoms when we say wear a face covering.” Adams has, however, neglected to call for nationwide regulations.
Is Your Mask Effective?
You don’t need a pricey surgical mask to keep yourself safe from COVID-19 infection, but your mask should meet a number of specifications. Read more about effective masks and learn how to make a mask at home.