As new coronavirus cases surge in many areas of the United States, mask-wearing—which has been shown in studies to reliably prevent the transmission of the virus—has suddenly become a hot button political issue, particularly among conservatives.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, President Trump suggested that some Americans are wearing masks to signal their disapproval of him, not to prevent the spread of the virus.
On Wednesday, conservative activist Brandon Straka was removed from an American Airlines flight after refusing to wear a mask, with the airline then barring him from any future flights where masks are required.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday a statewide mask mandate, though the Orange County sheriff said he wouldn’t enforce it: “We are not the mask police — nor do I intend to be the mask police.”
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona backtracked on an earlier refusal to make masks required, announcing Wednesday that he would allow local governments in the state to set their own requirements.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has threatened to withhold $100 million in emergency federal relief funds from local governments in the state if they enact mask requirements.
Movie chain AMC faced backlash this week after announcing that masks would not be required when theaters reopen next month: “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” the CEO said in a Variety interview.
“There’s very few things that we can do to prevent wider spread and another epidemic heading into the fall,” former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday. “And this is one of them. Universal masking is one of the simplest interventions we could take.”
Amid a push to briskly reopen the economy from mandatory lockdowns, slightly less than half of states are seeing a surge in cases. Arizona, Florida, and Texas have consistently broken records for new infections and hospitalizations, and Oregon and Utah have paused their reopening efforts as a result of their own statewide surges. President Trump is set to hold his first campaign rally on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where cases are rising in both the county and state. Research has shown that masks work: a review published in The Lancet last week looked at 172 observational studies and found that masks—in conjunction with hand washing and social distancing—are effective in many settings in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.