Opinion / The Nation and the World

Why is wearing a mask to combat a pandemic a political issue?

The rules of wearing a mask in public around others is strictly enforced in Massachusetts. However, for many months the wearing of face masks has not been adhered to equally across the United States. Mask wearing began as a necessity to protect oneself and others from a deadly virus that as of today has taken the lives of 562,000 Americans and sickened more than 31 million Americans, according to the New York Times’ public health data. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview with Reuters, “Political divisiveness contributed significantly to the stunning US Covid-19 death toll.” One should question why the wearing of a mask ever became such a battle. Politics must be put aside, and wearing a mask should never carry a political connotation or political party message.  

It was that simple: wear a mask, save lives. However, as we emerged from the initial panic of this pandemic, it became evident a movement had begun. Over the course of the pandemic and the lengthy 2020 Presidential campaign, not all United States citizens felt the same as the Northeast. The wearing of a face mask developed political connotations, and soon one’s political party was denoted not only by your presidential candidate but also by your decision to wear a mask at all. Are you a mask wearer or a non mask wearer? Has this taken the place of the political left wing or right wing?

Republicans have been more likely to ”break the rules” by choosing to not wear a mask, while Democrats are more often seen as “rule followers” by choosing to wear a mask. In an article published last summer, reporter Akshay Syal compared messages between public health officials and political leaders. President Donald Trump refused to wear a mask in public and argued that wearing masks was not necessary or helpful to ending the pandemic. Now-President Joe Biden supported the use of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and made this message clear in his election campaign in 2020.

Politics has forced safety precautions recommended to protect Americans to align with the political division of our country during an extremely difficult and challenging time. Republican-dominant states have higher percentages of non face mask wearers than predominantly Democratic states. Moving to Florida for a few months in the new year, I can attest to these statements. Individuals in Florida, a mostly red state, are laid back in their mask wearing. In stores and at restaurants, customers and workers do not always wear this protective gear, putting others at risk. I was shocked to see so many people not following the rules, especially since Massachusetts so strictly enforces for the safety of yourself and others. 

Certain regions of the United States, such as New England and the greater Northeast, adopted the use of face masks at early stages of the pandemic. New York City, as the epicenter of the virus for the United States, and Boston were faster to adopt the use of this protective equipment. Wearing a mask became a necessity, a way of life that must be followed to attack the rapid spread of Covid 19.

Wearing a mask should be based on the scientific facts associated with doing so. Science has proven wearing masks prevents the spread of Covid-19. I believe one lesson of many we should take away from this pandemic is that the health of Americans should never be a controversial political issue. Striving to keep the health and well-being of Americans a priority is something everyone should support regardless of one’s political beliefs. Caring for one another by keeping each other safe is a uniting rather than divisive cause.

Image source: Associated Press via Orange County Register.

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