Are masks for health, for respect, or for show? Who knows?
In a Staten Island grocery store this week, a handful of masked shoppers mercilessly berated a woman, including at least one person hurling expletives at her, for not wearing a mask. The small mob subsequently drove her from the store.
A video of the incident posted on Twitter had garnered nearly 117,000 likes as of Friday, indicating significant support for their very public condemnation of her.
It also was a vivid example of how mask-wearing has shifted from a protective step against COVID-19 to a new front in America’s culture war — arguably a conflict rooted in our own health officials’ conflicted thinking about masks during the pandemic.
To illustrate where we stand with mask-wearing, we can see on one hand the hyperventilating reaction to President Donald Trump’s refusal to wear one in public, such as while visiting a Ford plant in Michigan last week. On the other hand, look to Elgin, Texas, where Kevin Smith, owner of the Liberty Tree Tavern, is “turning away customers who wear a mask in the establishment,” according to CBS News this week.
Part of the reason for this divide is media coverage that has convinced people that COVID-19 lurks everywhere waiting to kill them. The fear created by that is so high that people are actually dying from unrelated health conditions, such as heart attacks or strokes, because they refuse to go to hospitals, ironically, for fear of contracting coronavirus.
But the mask argument also stems from comments by our experts.
In an early March interview with “60 Minutes,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, cautioned against widespread usage of masks because that could deplete the stock available for health care workers and first-responders. “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask,” Fauci said, according to a CBS transcript of the interview. Moreover, “While masks may block some droplets, Fauci said, they do not provide the level of protection people think they do. Wearing a mask may also have unintended consequences: People who wear masks tend to touch their face more often to adjust them, which can spread germs from their hands,” CBS reported.
At the end of March, The New York Times reported, “Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly said that ordinary citizens do not need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing.”
Yet in early April the experts had second thoughts. Believing they better understood how the virus wes transmitted, the CDC posted on its website, “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
“It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus,” the CDC added. “CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
Now, we’ve shifted again — sort of.
In an interview on Wednesday, Fauci explained his thoughts about wearing a mask to CNN: “I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing.”
Dr. Fauci acknowledged that masks “aren’t 100% effective,” but wearing one does show others that you care.
“It’s sort of respect for another person and have that other person respect you,” Fauci said. “You wear a mask, they wear a mask, you protect each other.”
So is mask-wearing for health or for show? Confused? It’s understandable.
Scroll down to comment!