Opinion: Politicization of mask-wearing will lead to unnecessary casualties


Photo courtesy of Creative commons “A new girl in disguise” by cantanima is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Justin Van't Hof

While I don’t enjoy wearing a mask myself, I recognize that it is one of the most helpful tools we have in containing this tricky pandemic. With the spread of COVID-19 becoming riddled with misinformation, there’s been a politicization of the effectiveness of cloth masks in containing the spread of the virus. If we don’t come together as a community to stop the spread of this virus, we will all feel its deadly effects in the fall.

The issue of wearing masks has only been further politicized by President Trump’s constant attacks on mask mandates and urging his supporters to largely dismiss wearing masks. In a White House press briefing on Thursday, Aug. 13 he used the issue of a mask mandate to draw partisan attacks against his opponent Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

“He [Biden] wants the President of the United States, with the mere stroke of a pen, to order over 300 million American citizens to wear a mask for a minimum of three straight months,” Trump said. 

While many of his supporters condone such a statement as typical election rhetoric, the message has had a clear effect on Americans’ willingness to wear a mask. A recent study from the Pew Research Center about Americans’ feelings toward wearing masks found that conservative Republicans are among the least likely to say they have worn a mask all or most of the time in the past month with only 49% saying they’ve done so.

President Trump’s comments also come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published information stating that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19. I wish I could chalk it up to President Trump alone, but the simple truth is that anti-mask theories have thrived in the age of the internet. 

Even with the CDC providing research to support the effectiveness of masks, many conservative media creators have bought into the anti-mask narrative. Last month a video by Ben Swann, an internet content creator claiming to know the truth about COVID-19, emerged in which Swann alleged that wearing a mask was not useful in containing the spread of disease. The rifts that this video raised are a manifestation of months of conspiracy theories about the pandemic. 

Another Pew Research Center study found that nearly 71% of Americans have heard of a conspiracy theory that powerful people intentionally planned the COVID-19 outbreak. Of those who have heard of one of these theories 34% of Republicans and independents who lean toward supporting the Republican Party say the theory is probably or definitely true.

While the U.S. government is struggling to get its citizens to wear masks, many other countries have already imposed national mask mandates and have seen impressive results in containing community spread of COVID-19. Vietnam was one of the first countries to impose a lockdown and recently reported a 99-day streak without a single case caused by community spread. In the U.S. it seems the issue has become more of a battle over rights instead of a battle against the pandemic.

It is certain that the politicization of wearing masks will manifest in the increase of COVID-19 cases in the fall. The CDC predicts that 4,200 to 10,600 new COVID-19 deaths will be reported during the week ending Sept. 5 and that 180,000 to 200,000 total COVID-19 deaths will be reported by that date.

The projected number of COVID-19 deaths is not just a number, it’s people’s family members. If we truly care about protecting those at risk, we need to recognize the importance of wearing a mask to prevent community spread. We as U.S. citizens need to drop the politicization of wearing a mask. This is not a political issue, this is an issue of life and death.