Mask Mandate is Long Overdue

Women wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic

Women wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic

I applaud President-elect Biden for moving quickly to create his own COVID task force, and for stacking it with people who actually know about and recognize science. Among other things, the task force is assessing the development of effective vaccines, and making plans for distribution and administration of same. That’s all well and good, but keep in mind that a vaccine is a preventative, not a cure, and that brings me to the here-and-now.

Last month, less than a week after the CDC first reported 100,000 new cases of COVID in one day, that number jumped to 185,000, and by the time this column goes to press, we’ll probably be well over 200,000 cases per day. Experts predict that unless we take steps to curtail the virus, we’ll see half a million cases per day by March. And guess what? Young adults are contracting COVID at a higher rate than the elderly, and they’re taking longer to recover than when the pandemic began. Meanwhile America’s death toll continues to rise, with over 2,000 people dying each day. The reason for these spikes is simple: as more and more states relaxed their guidelines for closures and public gatherings, people began to congregate in larger numbers, AND doing so without wearing face masks. That means until such time as a vaccine is readily available, only three things will stop the spread: social distancing, keeping everyone at home, or mandating the wearing of face masks.

The problem with social distancing is that there is no medical consensus on how far apart we should be. At first we were told to stay six feet apart from other people, then that was upgraded to ten feet, then back to six. Now, some reports indicate that COVID droplets hang in the air much longer than originally believed. Translation? Maybe even ten feet apart isn’t enough. So what about a lock-down option? Thus far, Biden hasn’t embraced the idea of shutting down the country, and I hope he never will. First of all, it would throw us into a major depression. Second, it would only delay the spread of COVID, not wipe it out. In the early days of the pandemic, a number of states, including North Carolina, operated under stay-at-home orders, primarily to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, and to that extent, the strategy was effective. However, the various shut-downs and limits on crowd size proved devastating to businesses, and to millions of people who depended upon those businesses for a living. By process of elimination, then, our only hope to save lives over the next six months is a national mask mandate, and that’s something Trump will never call for. Therefore, cities and states are stepping up to the plate in the interim.

Over the past week, an increasing number of Governors and Mayors have issued mandatory mask orders which carry with them stiff penalties for anyone who doesn’t comply. For example, North Dakota’s Doug Burgum, a Republican, was one of the first governors to enact a $1,000 fine for anyone not wearing a mask in public, and last week, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines went one better. He added jail time to the fine. Given that our unmasked breath could kill someone, I think these penalties are reasonable. So do researchers at the University of Washington, who just released a report in which they concluded that if 95% of Americans would wear masks consistently, over 68,000 lives would be saved by March 1.

Of course, there are those who say mask mandates would violate their individual freedoms, but the fact is, we already live under a set of laws that do just that. We do not have the freedom to run a red light or drive drunk, or at high speeds. We do not have the freedom to smoke in most buildings, or carry a loaded gun into most stores. We do not have the freedom to take whatever we want without paying, or hold a parade without a permit. In truth, we would be a much freer society under a mask mandate. If everyone wore a mask, we’d be free to once again attend indoor concerts. We could go to bars, hotels, restaurants, gyms, tourist attractions and sports arenas. And we’d be able to attend large family gatherings, fill up a church pew, and be better able to visit immediate family members who are hospitalized or home-bound. Our economy would rebound faster, and so would our mental state. Best of all, under a strictly enforced mask mandate, the American people would eventually kill off COVID, instead of the other way around.

 
 

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