The United States has hit over 4 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and over 140 thousand deaths. As a news consumer today, it seems as if politics is scorching the world, igniting arguments between friends and acquaintances, co-workers and peers, family members and neighbors, and now maskers and anti-maskers. Annoyingly enough, wearing a mask has become a political debate. A piece of cloth has triggered a dispute in the U.S. where it is being called a “muzzle.” There are Americans who are claiming that mask mandates violate their civil liberties and are declaring mask-wearing as unconstitutional. With public health on the line, one thing must be made clear: wearing a mask should have nothing to do with politics.
Masks Decrease the Rate of Transmission of the Virus
COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, which indicates various signs and symptoms. People who never develop symptoms upon infection of the virus are known as asymptomatic cases. However, individuals can also be pre-symptomatic, which means that they don’t show symptoms upon infection but develop them in the “two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.” There is a possibility for asymptomatic transmission to occur, and it has been confirmed that people who are pre-symptomatic are “highly contagious.” Until the pre-symptomatic carrier begins developing symptoms of the coronavirus, it is difficult to distinguish them from the asymptomatic carrier because both of them “look and feel ‘normal’,” which is why it is important for both of them to wear masks.
A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that when a person uttered a simple phrase (“stay healthy”) without a face covering, numerous droplets were produced. However, when that same speaker wore a damp washcloth over their mouth while speaking, the number of forward-moving droplets decreased even while saying the phrase three times.
A HealthAffairs study found that over time, in 15 states and the District of Columbia where government officials had mandated mask-wearing, the daily rate of COVID-19 cases decreased.
Research conducted at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute and at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology also claims that the infection rate would drop to about one twelfth of the current rate if 80% of people in a closed population wore a mask.
While there are new studies being published every week that prove that masks are effective, there is also anecdotal evidence that proves their efficacy. In a Missouri hair salon where everyone wore a mask, two hair stylists who had been in close contact with “at least 140 people” while sick with COVID-19 didn’t spread the virus to any of the 46 clients who agreed to be tested.
Science and Politics Don’t Mix
In the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization held different viewpoints about the wearing of a face covering to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Initially, the WHO released guidance that claimed that medical masks be reserved for healthcare workers and sick people. The WHO emphasized that there was no evidence that the wearing of a mask by a healthy individual would prevent them from being infected with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. While the CDC agreed with the WHO at first, it later urged Americans to wear cloth masks regardless of whether or not they were ill. The WHO has also changed its statement and now advises people to wear a mask in settings where COVID-19 is widespread and in public areas where physical distancing measures cannot be achieved. The mixed messaging in the initial months of the pandemic generated distrust in Americans and pushed them toward their political leaders who influenced their mask-wearing habits.
It wasn’t beneficial for the American public to follow politicians’ opinions on mask-wearing. Unfortunately, various policymakers downplayed the outbreak and compared it to the common flu.
Science is ever evolving and evidence continually changes as new scientific discoveries are made. Often, politicians demean scientists and their work after scientific guidance issued earlier is later proven to be inaccurate. President Trump’s behavior serves as an illustration in that regard.
Politics encourages policymakers to take certain positions, and to maintain promises and satisfy supporters, therefore it may not always correspond with science. Politicians may also manipulate facts to agree with their statements. If politicians and their supporters draw political lines over a global pandemic instead of uniting in solidarity with scientists and doctors, the number of cases may only increase in the coming days. Policymakers need to keep scientific evidence in mind while advising citizens about mask-wearing rather than political strategies.
Leaders are Expected to Set an Example, Instead They’ve Practiced Politics
According to the Pew Research Center, 63% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and 29% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that masks should always be worn in public places. Apparently, conservatives are more likely than liberals to say “that masks should rarely or never be worn (23% vs. 4%).”
Although Trump was seen donning a mask recently when he was visiting the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Vice President Mike also wore a mask to a public briefing that urged Americans to do the same, they refused to wear masks in the past. You’re probably narrowing your eyes at me right about now. Relax. I have no political motivation and I’m not trying to contribute to the left-right war that has worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m simply trying to explain how the president’s cognitive dissonance potentially harmed Americans. Leaders need to be held accountable for the decisions and statements they make.
Wearing a mask became a political statement in America after Trump refused to wear one in front of the media and mocked presumptive Democratic Nominee Joe Biden for wearing one at a Memorial Day ceremony even after public health experts provided concrete evidence in favor of mask-wearing. In fact, Trump has even told The Wall Street Journal that he thinks people only wear a mask to show the dislike they have for him regardless of whether they are avoiding COVID-19 or not. Pence was also seen without a mask in Minnesota where he was speaking with patients recovering from COVID-19 at the Mayo Clinic.
Supporters may insist that because both Trump and Pence are tested daily for the coronavirus, it doesn’t matter whether they wear masks in public or not. However, the fact is that Pence’s public refusal to wear a mask violated the Mayo Clinic’s requirement for patients and visitors to wear a face covering and contravened the recommendations of health officials. Trump and Pence have set an example for Americans who, unlike the two politicians, are not getting tested daily and have no idea whether they have the virus or not.
Shove Politics Aside
The upper lip sweat gets to me too. The beads of water below my nose are annoying because they make my mask wet. Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable. I hate the hot burst of air that rushes in every time I breathe, how red my face is after I take off my mask at home or in the car.
After a lengthy lockdown, I want to see the bottom half of people’s faces and not just their eyes and the beginning of their cheekbones. I want to go out and about without having to cover my face, and not have to change the direction I’m walking in when I see someone coming close. But, I have to.
We have a habit of rehearsing our apathy, anger, and annoyance when we’re faced with circumstances that require us to change for the good of society. Our hearts harden when we’re asked to shake hands with collectivism, and instead, we rush toward individualism. You cannot keep going on your way though, stop. When you refuse to wear a mask because you believe this pandemic, this virus, is a hoax, you undermine the hundreds of thousands of lives that are lost. In case you didn’t know, the death toll continues to rise, and you can’t pretend the disease is going away because a politician who is afraid of looking afraid is telling you it’ll disappear. COVID-19 will go away, but continually believing or saying that it will disappear is not appropriate or accurate in the midst of a pandemic when hundreds of people are dying.
There are young people who believe that they don’t have to wear a mask as long as they refrain from interacting with older people. Although the coronavirus is proven to be more severe for people who are older, COVID-19 cases in Florida are radically shifting toward younger people and “youth may not shield people from serious disease.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott also claimed that most people who are testing positive for COVID-19 are “under the age of 30.” Moreover, a 28-year-old woman who had been infected with COVID-19 underwent a double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after spending more than a month on a ventilator.
The resurgence of the coronavirus is also taking a toll on frontline workers who are running out of personal protective equipment and are being forced to reuse their gear.
The politicization of the pandemic is causing information that suggests the severity of the virus to offend conservative views, whereas any information that suggests that the virus is less severe than it is, harms liberal views. Asking people to set their political views aside implies a threat to their political identities.
People sometimes don’t understand this: they can disagree with a politician they like. We need to acknowledge that politicians lack the expertise and knowledge to make claims about the coronavirus that are not backed by scientific evidence. We need to collectively point ourselves toward the most appropriate, evidence-based practices and wearing a mask is one of them.
Through Teen Lenses: Should wearing a mask be a political debate?
“I believe that wearing a mask is not a political issue because it’s all about the health of people. It really shouldn’t be something that people argue about or try to use the argument of “freedom” and the “amendments” because it puts the public health at stake. The only thing that matters right now is trying to fight the virus, however that won’t happen as long as people consider the topic of wearing masks as a “political issue”.” Angie Tehrani, 17, Rising Senior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Gaithersburg, MD
“I don’t think wearing a mask is a political issue. But unfortunately, it has become one like everything else does. I am a lifeguard and I have heard the stupidest excuses for not wanting to wear a mask. It ranges from “well I have asthma” to “you can’t tell me what to do”. In my eyes, wearing a mask is like putting on a seatbelt except even more important. You put on a seatbelt when you get in the car because one, that’s the law, and two because it keeps you safe. Wearing a mask doesn’t just keep you safe but it keeps everyone around you safe. The fact that people can’t understand that simple fact is very alarming.” Anya Bijlani, 17, Rising Senior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“Wearing a mask shows that you want to protect your community and yourself. Refusing to wear a mask is refusing to believe science and refusing to be a good citizen, it is not exercising a freedom.” Le Anh Metzger, 16, Rising Junior at Mayfield Senior School, Pasadena, MD
“This isn’t an issue we can “pick sides” for, it’s about protecting our neighbors, our loved ones, and people we may not even know but are united with because we’re human. wearing a mask ensures that we do our part, to alleviate the effects of a global pandemic.” Samaa Zaman, 18, Rising Freshman at the University of Maryland, North Potomac, MD
“Science shows that the virus doesn’t discriminate. Everyone is at risk of getting the virus—even if they’re just a carrier—so everyone needs to wear a mask to protect themselves and their loved ones. Don’t follow petty politics instead of science.” Rubina Hasanat, 18, Rising Sophomore at the University of Maryland, Clarksburg, MD