It’s not breaking news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible. According to the CDC, the virus spreads “mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice.… These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
So if I wear a mask and I’m infected, even if I don’t know I’m infected, I won’t be subjecting another person to the potentially deadly virus.
According to a new study published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the best way to prevent virus transmission is by wearing a mask. Researchers studied infection rate trends in Italy and New York before and after masks became mandatory. The study found that wearing masks prevented more than 78,000 infections in Italy between April 6 and May 9, and more than 66,000 infections in New York City between April 17 and May 9.
A growing number of states are mandating the use of masks. NY requires masks when social distancing is not possible, and NY businesses can refuse entry to people who aren’t wearing masks.
In view of the public health benefits of mask requirements, there is legal basis for making masks mandatory. According to the Health Law and Policy Program at American University, state and local governments have broad authority in a public health emergency to issue emergency orders like mask mandates.
However, in spite of the science and legality, some people are refusing to wear masks on the grounds that their “private rights” and civil liberties are being infringed by the requirement. Lawsuits are emerging, even in states like Florida where the number of COVID-19 cases is rising, that challenge a range of mask-related issues, from the process used to adopt the mandates to whether the mandates themselves violate free speech rights.
Anti-mask sentiment has become so prevalent in some parts of the country that fraudsters have gotten into the act. Postings for laminated “mask exemption” cards with a fake U.S. Department of Justice seal claiming that the bearer is exempt from mask usage have been found for sale online. Last month the Department of Justice issued a statement that these postings are fraudulent.
It is indeed challenging to wear a mask in the summer heat, but people need to get over themselves. This shouldn’t be a political issue. The science is clear. Mask-wearing is helping to reduce virus spread significantly.
Anti-maskers are focusing on the wrong thing. I’m all for civil liberties and personal choice, but as smoke-free air laws (enacted in the majority of states to protect the public from breathing secondhand smoke) illustrate, your freedom is not absolute if exercising it will result in harm to others. Spreading the virus when you are infected and don’t know is NOT a personal choice. Nor is freaking out an elderly person walking down the street who becomes frightened when he/she sees somebody approaching without a mask.
Respect others’ rights in addition to your own.
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US, CIPP/E