Face mask becomes a political issue in US

Published July 2, 2020, 10:40 AM

by Manila Bulletin

It is now established that keeping one’s distance from another person – social distancing, avoiding physical contact such as shaking hands, avoiding touching surfaces such as doorknobs and arm rests, are among a person’s frontline defenses against the coronavirus.

The distancing is needed because the virus is known to travel in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even just exhales. The virus is also believed to travel greater distances with air movements, such as in air-conditioning in a ship, a plane, or a hospital.

Many governments have ordered bans on mass gatherings where people have to stand close to one another. But ultimately, it is up to each person to protect himself. And the best way to do this in a public place, according to health experts, is to cover the mouth and nose – a face mask – to keep the virus from entering the body.

Face masks are standard protection for doctors and nurses attending to coronavirus patients in hospitals, along with other personal protective equipment. They are now also standard protection for ordinary people venturing out into streets and other public places.

But, strange as it seems, many people in the United States – including President Donald Trump – refuse to wear them. “If wearing masks is important, and all the health experts tell us that it is… it would help if, from time to time, the President would wear one to help us get rid of this political debate that if you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask; if you’re against Trump, you do,” Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Sunday.

President Trump has refused to wear a face mask, reflecting his low esteem for the danger posed by the virus which he once dismissed as a hoax being foisted by Democrats. He has refused to admit that he was wrong then and that the virus now poses a real danger. And so he continues to appear in public without wearing a face mask.

The US has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with over 2.5 million cases and over 125,000 deaths. Many Republicans who had earlier declined to speak out are now callng strongly for mask wearing, among them Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Gov. Gregg Abbot of Texas. Vice President Mike Pence has taken to wearing face masks in public but would not comment on Trump’s continued refusal to wear one.

A number of White House aides have already been found positive for the virus and many of them have taken to wearing face masks, including those facing reporters in regular White House press briefings. But President Trump himself continues to refuse to appear in public with a face mask and so the controversy continues.

It will continue until something decisive happens – like the coronavirus pandemic suddenly dying out – or President Trump joining many world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who have suffered infection and undergone quarantine. His own partymates hope he will avoid this – and at the same time set an example for the country by wearing a face mask, that most basic means of protection from the coronavirus.