By Hannah Irvin
On April 9, Alabama’s state-wide mask mandate will expire, and we will follow in the footsteps of other states that have ended mask mandates despite recommendations from the CDC.
Our neighbor, Georgia, never implemented a mask mandate, and has seen over one million cases and nearly 18,000 deaths. Florida, similarly, has had over 2 million cases and 32,778 deaths, having no statewide mandate even at the beginning of the pandemic. Alabama has had about 512,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths.
Why are masks such a point of contention?
Health professionals all over the world cite the benefits of wearing a mask, yet state officials scoff at those who enforce wearing.
A Colorado restaurant employee was shot for not serving a customer who refused to wear a mask back in May of 2020. Health officials have received death threats after masks were required. Some anti-maskers claim that mandates infringe on their constitutional rights, despite the fact that freedom to go without a mask infringes on the freedom of others to be safe.
I find the debate about masks to be tiresome and even humorous due to my unique experiences with them.
Despite being mocked for it on several different occasions, I started wearing a mask in the winter of 2019, during a particularly rampant flu season on campus.
I had seen disability advocates with lowered immune systems wearing masks to prevent illness or reactions to allergens and decided to try it for myself.
While everyone around me got sick and missed a week or two of classes, I remained perfectly healthy without catching so much as a cold.
When the mask mandate here in Alabama went into effect, I was ready with my collection of cute masks. I was not ready, though, for the onslaught of vitriol surrounding the topic.
I agree that those who have legitimate reasons why they cannot wear a mask should be exempt. I have personal friends with autism and rheumatoid arthritis – conditions that can cause mask-wearing to be extremely difficult.
I want to make it very clear that actual disabilities are understandable and people who cannot wear masks for medical reasons should not be treated poorly because of it.
Since wearing a mask often protects those around the wearer more effectively than the wearer themselves, a few exceptions should be fine. We should also be making services like curbside pickup more common so those who cannot wear masks but also do not wish to take a risk can obtain the items they need.
However, simply citing “emotional distress” or an “undisclosed disability” is not enough.
Several studies have actually linked refusal to wear a mask with antisocial personality traits, such as a “reckless disregard for the safety of self and others.”
People have been found faking disabilities and documentation in order to avoid masks. One woman claims her disability is “overheating easily” and carries a fake exemption card (she also rammed someone with a shopping cart when refused service for not wearing a mask).
Many professionals, like surgeons, wear masks for hours every day as part of their job and suffer no ill effects. Those like myself who have limited airways due to asthma or related conditions might feel like masks make it harder to breathe – I like to remind myself that COVID makes it harder to breathe too. If I don’t like a mask, I’m really not going to like a ventilator.
I have seen far too much internet chatter dismissing the number of deaths, citing the real cause as “underlying conditions.”
And yes, the CDC reported that 94% of people who died from COVID had contributing conditions.
Too many people have claimed that having a healthy immune system is all you need to stay safe from the coronavirus – just eat healthy and exercise. Yet these “underlying conditions” include type 1 diabetes, Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and asthma – all conditions that you can be born with. Another “underlying condition” is pregnancy. We can’t genuinely assume that a pregnant person would have died anyway. Additionally, conditions like heart disease, renal failure, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity can all be managed for years without being life-threatening. To dismiss deaths because of existing conditions is to make excuses from a place of ignorance. People with existing conditions don’t deserve to die either.
We know masks work.
Many, many studies can be found that provide evidence masks slow the spread of infectious diseases.
Japan has included masks as a common cultural practice for decades, seen as “an individual duty to protect one’s family, community and country.” If a person has the sniffles, they wear a mask in case it is contagious so they don’t spread it to anyone else. The entire country of Japan has had 15,166 new cases from March 10 to 21. They have a population of 126,476,461 which makes their COVID cases only 0.01% of their population.
Unsurprisingly, Japan has a collectivistic culture, which puts the good of the community above the comfort of the individual.
In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our individualistic culture, and one writer describes us as “more likely to prioritize themselves over a group.” This has rarely been more apparent than in the politicizing of mask-wearing.