In this hyper-partisan era, during this increasingly nasty election year, it seems that every action is a political statement.
With 130,000 deaths and counting in just over four months, the act of wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the midst of a pandemic should most emphatically not fall in this category.
There is absolutely nothing political about mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand washing if you leave your home. Those actions are backed by science as helping prevent spread the coronavirus and they constitute common sense as well.
The politicization of mask wearing is both unfortunate and inexcusable.
The unfortunate part stems from the original incorrect message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in late March and early April was discouraging people from wearing masks. CDC officials initially feared that encouraging mask-wearing by the general public would lead to a run on personal protective equipment, which was and remains vital for medical and emergency workers to treat sick Americans.
Rather than send that unfortunate message, the CDC should have been paying closer attention to how beneficial cloth mask wearing already was in other parts of the world. By the time the organization reversed course in early April, community spread had occurred in most of the country, and many people were confused by the CDC’s mixed message.
In any public information campaign, it takes time for the message to sink in and for behaviors to change. In Alexandria, while the Alexandria Times began warning the public about mask-wearing in early April, it wasn’t until the city’s case numbers soared in mid-April through May that use of face masks became widespread.
The inexcusable part of this has been the utter failure in leadership by President Donald Trump, who has singlehandedly made mask-wearing into a partisan issue. This is arguably the greatest failing of his entire presidency, as bold leadership on his part would have led to more widespread mask-wearing from the start, which would have surely saved lives.
Trump has been right to be concerned about the short- and long-term economic repercussions from the roughly two-month total shutdown of our economy. There’s no denying the huge damage this shutdown has caused.
But safety has to be an integral part of reopening, so we don’t have to shut it all back down. Absent clear, effective treatments or a vaccine – neither of which are available yet – we must physical distance and wear masks or this is all going to come crumbling down again.
This is so obvious that it seems laughable to have to state it in print. And yet, Trump even now refuses to endorse mask-wearing and he continues to refuse to wear one himself.
And because around 30% to 35% of the people in this country follow the president’s cue on every issue, many people are antipathetic to wearing masks.
If the president were to do an about-face, and even at this late hour endorse mask-wearing and allow himself to be photographed in a mask, much of this resistance would melt away – because it is political.
People who wear masks are not “virtue signaling” as some have claimed. They are simply trying to protect themselves, their families, their communities and ultimately, even those who – stubbornly or ignorantly, take your pick – refuse to wear a face mask in a pandemic.
Wear a mask. Save a life.