There’s been a lot of controversy about mask wearing in the COVID-19 universe. A lot of people have made statements about the futility of wearing a mask, and therefore, they object to various local mandates about being required to wear a mask. Much of this is based on statements made by President Trump.
For example, in a video here (from Apr 18, 2020) he says that he personally will not wear a face mask, despite CDC recommendations that people wear them.
Let’s talk about the qualifications of the people involved here.
One of the major players is the CDC. The CDC knows something about dealing with pandemics. CDC stands for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a federal agency who’s job it is to protect the national public health. It is staffed by people who have made a career out of understanding how diseases transmit from one person to another, and how to control them. If you look up pictures of people working in the CDC, you’ll see researchers who are invariably wearing masks (and possibly additional protective clothing). These aren’t post-COVID images… these are images of how they’ve conducted their research for decades. It is well understood that wearing a mask helps to control the transmission of diseases. PERIOD! This is not something that needs to be debated. It’s not a question that hasn’t been studied. It is simply a fact. Initially, the CDC was not recommending that everyone wear masks because it was not understood yet how COVID was transmitted. However, by April, they were recommending masks.
Then there’s Anthony Fauci. He’s an immunologist who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases for 36 years. He knows something about disease control. He was guiding US policy to deal with HIV/AIDS, SARS, swine flu, MERS, and Ebola. He called for a national shutdown and social distancing, long before people were practicing that. He did say early on that masks didn’t seem useful, but as evidence came out that masks helped, and the CDC issued their recommendations, Fauci changed his recommendation to match theirs, based on the best data concerning COVID.
These are the very recommendations that Trump ignored in April when he said that he was not going to wear a mask and has continued to ignore in May and June until July when he finally did an about face.
I don’t actually expect President Trump to have any personal expertise in disease control. No other president has, so his lack is absolutely not a mark against him. However, President Trump has a staff who make recommendations on things that are outside of his personal expertise, and he should not have ignored those recommendations.
One other thing that I want to address is whether or not a mandate (whether local or federal) to wear a mask in some way violates a person’s rights. I am a staunch libertarian. I have one, and only one, measure of how good a politician is, how good a law is, how good a policy is. The measure is “How well does he/she/it protect the rights of every individual in this country?”. If you ask me what I think of a politician, or a proposed amendment, or a supreme court ruling, or any other political entity or action, that is the measuring stick I will use to evaluate my answer.
Here’s how I measure. I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that right extends right up to the point where it infringes on your right. That’s where my right stops. As a result, if you want to collect stamps, or you want to climb mountains, or you want to do drugs, I believe you have the right to do so. But you do not have the right to do something that can harm me. You don’t get to steal money from me to buy the stamps. You don’t get to destroy the beauty of the mountain you want to climb or make it unsafe for me to visit. And you don’t get to drive your car after you do the drugs because that puts me at risk.
The primary purpose of the mask is to prevent you from spreading the disease to me, NOT to protect you from me. It has been very reliably demonstrated that you may have COVID and not even know it. And, having it, you can transmit it to me, completely unknown to both of us. And, given that the transmission appears to be primarily airborne, a mask is a fairly effective way to limit transmission. No, it’s not 100% effective, but it is far better than nothing.
I do not wear a mask to protect me. I wear it to protect you! I expect the same in return. And given the purpose of the mask, a policy requiring that we wear masks is NOT an infringement on my rights or yours.