The decision to wear a mask in public is becoming a political statement. It has become a moment to pick sides in a brewing culture war over containing the coronavirus. While not yet as loaded as a “Make America Great Again” hat, the mask is increasingly a visual shorthand for a debate pitting those willing to follow health officials’ guidance and cover their faces against those who feel it violates their freedom or buys into a threat they think is overblown.
That resistance is fueled by some of the same people who object to other virus restrictions. The push back has been stoked by President Donald Trump and some other Republicans, who have flouted rules and questioned the value of masks. It’s a development that has worried the experts as Americans are increasingly returning to public spaces.
Inconclusive science and shifting federal guidance have no doubt muddied the political debate. Health officials initially said wearing masks was unnecessary, especially amid a shortage of protective materials. However, last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending wearing cloth masks in public to prevent transmitting the virus to others.
Increasingly, research has shown a simple act of wearing a facial covering when coming into contact with other people saves lives and helps the economy. The pendulum has long swung in favor of wearing masks. And while polls have shown growing majorities of both Democrats and Republicans doing so, there continues to be a sizable gap between the two, with the latter less enthusiastic. While most other protective measures like social distancing get broad bipartisan support, Democrats are more likely to say they’re wearing a mask when leaving home compared to Republicans, which results76% to 59%, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
While other countries around the world are unifying to fight the virus head-on, the United States is distracted by political games and petty arguments. Mask wearing, a proven tool to slow the spread of coronavirus, should not be a political debate but instead a chance for the country to show its true competence in a crisis.
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