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The ISD Editorial Board breaks down why some Americans refuse to wear masks and whether it is unconstitutional or not. 

Masks have become a political issue in our society and many Americans have argued it is a constitutional right to not wear a mask. While they are legal, politics and culture play a big part in why people choose not to wear them. 

Masks are incredibly polarized all across the country. For example, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued guidance that requires most Californians to wear masks in public settings. Other states such as Delaware, New York, Virginia, Illinois and Washington have all followed suit. In the days and weeks following, the mandates have received criticism from residents and local officials who have argued that governors do not have the legal authority to make masks a requirement. 

However, it has been proven that state and local governments have broad authority to issue emergency orders in a public health emergency. There are plenty of other examples in American society where public health and safety officials have issued broad mandates to protect their constituents. Before face mask mandates, seat belt laws were also broadly fought against. In 1984, New York became the first state to pass a mandatory seat belt law, with other states following soon after.

While there was clear evidence seat belts saved lives, a Gallup Poll from July 1984 showed that 65 percent of Americans opposed them and fewer than 15 percent of Americans said they used seat belts consistently.

Motorcycle helmet laws and laws on who can sell cigarettes are other types of protection laws that are welcomed in our society but were strictly opposed when they first were put into legislation.

Even with these mandates, many Americans defy these orders despite overwhelming evidence that suggests the use of face masks can significantly limit the transmission of coronavirus. Most times, it goes beyond politics, however. 

"In times of uncertainty, humans tend to seek a sense of belonging," said David Abrams, professor of social and behavioral science at the NYU School of Global Public Health.

"Those who choose not to wear masks may feel a sense of solidarity, almost as if they're taking a stand against authority. Those who do likely regard it 'as an act of altruism and a way of helping each other out,'" Abrams said.

If common sense prevailed, all Americans would wear face masks. But in light of the current political and social atmosphere, strong emotions can override rationality, and people look to leaders for guidance during these times. 

Notably, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have been reluctant to wear — and have refused to wear — masks in public. Pence had violated the famed Mayo Clinic's standards in Minnesota and did not wear one during an April visit when he met with staff and patients. "People look at Pence at the Mayo Clinic and say: 'Well, he's in a hospital and didn't wear a mask, why should I?''' Abrams said.

In early April, "Trump had not made a point of not wearing a mask," said pollster Chris Jackson, senior vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs. "Once he very clearly did not wear a mask in public, that transmitted a signal that if you're a good supporter of the president, you don't wear a mask."

Unlike many countries in East Asia, before coronavirus, Americans were rarely asked to wear a face mask. Now Americans who don't wear masks can be denied entry into stores and can even be barred from flying on certain airlines.

Americans who choose not to wear masks don't want to admit this is the new normal. This may be a reaction, or overreaction, to authority. "There's a certain bravado of being angry and defying requirements to wear a mask," Abrams said. On the other hand, Americans rarely show the same reaction when they see signs that require them to wear shoes or shirts because abiding by those standards has become a part of our culture. 

While the coronavirus pandemic rages on, masks will continue to be a controversial item across America. While politics and culture significantly impact why people choose, or not choose, to wear a mask, they are not unconstitutional. They are crucial for our personal safety and will help prevent further infections.

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(2) comments

Jake Pierson

The editorial seems rather thrown together and not properly thought out. The first problem is the apples to oranges comparison of wearing masks to seat belt and helmet laws. It is not a right to drive a car or ride a motorcycle it is a privilege that can be regulated and even denied. If you want to drive you must obey the rules. However, existing in public is not a privilege but a right acknowledge by our Founding Fathers when they wrote the phrase ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

The second problem is the claim, “If common sense prevailed, all Americans would wear face masks.” The left attempts to make this argument for everything. Either you agree with them or you lack common sense. In this case they even accuse none mask wearers of blinding following the lead of Trump. Of course it’s Trump’s fault.

The third problem is it confuses a private business’s prerogative with governmental mandates. I cross a state line every day coming to work and going home. The state where I live still mandates we wear a mask when in a public place like a store or a gas station. The state where I work does not even though some business require a mask regardless. Private businesses have the right to do this and if you don’t like it you can go somewhere else. But that is a completely different thing from the government saying I have to wear a mask. If I don’t I can’t go somewhere else. The state does not demand I wear any particular attire out in public as long as I don’t indecently expose myself.

This editorial completely misses the point. The headline indicated it has some actual insight into why a segment of the population has a problem with wearing a mask. Instead it is the same old leftist, Trump hating, conservative bashing, arrogant propaganda that is empty of anything even resembling viable argument.

Steve Gregg

Do we really want to limit the transmission of coronavirus? Is that the best course to defeating this virus? Perhaps the best course is to transmit it to the general public. It looks like most people suffer no ill effects from the coronavirus. Infecting them builds the antibodies that defeat the virus. If we allow the general public to become infected and develop the antibodies then it builds the herd immunity that stops the propagation of the virus.

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