Kuntzman: Stop making masks political

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Columnist

When American Multi-Cinema (AMC) theaters first announced its guidelines for reopening, the company stated that it “strongly encouraged” guests to wear a mask when they were not eating or drinking, but they did not go as far as to mandate that customers to do so (unless it is otherwise required by their state). Since then, the company has revised its policies and plans to require wearing masks in its theaters, but in a statement regarding why they didn’t do so originally, they cited fears of sparking “political controversy.” 

AMC’s fear that mandating wearing masks could be seen as controversial is not ill-founded. Groups such as “ReOpen NC” have expressed their clear disapproval of requiring individuals to wear masks. One of the organization’s co-founders, Ashley Smith, started the “Burn Your Mask” challenge, encouraging people to set personal protection equipment (PPE) on fire, claiming that the government telling people to wear masks was a violation of what the “constitution guarantees” and a “sign of control.” She insisted that masks cannot protect people from COVID-19. 

Smith is not alone in peddling this narrative. Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, recently filed a lawsuit against an executive order issued by the mayor of Orange County, Florida, Jerry Demings, for mandating that his residents wear masks. He described the order as “illegal” and claimed that it infringed upon the “private rights of people.” 

Claims that wearing masks is a political issue rather than a medical one ignore the current reality of public health in the U.S. There are 3.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 134,000 attributed deaths in the U.S., and cases continue to rise at a particularly alarming rate, especially among young people. In 19 states, COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests is increasing as well. 

Current projections for how COVID-19 will affect the public in coming weeks are alarming. The death toll in the U.S. is expected to rise to somewhere between 140,000-160,000 by August 1. States such as South Carolina are seeing their biggest spike in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began; if this trend continues, hospitals will once again be overwhelmed, jeopardizing patients due to a lack of resources and ventilators. 

Wearing a mask is a very simple and effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines, wearing a mask is not an adequate substitute for social distancing, but it is still an effective way to reduce the odds of spreading COVID-19. While cloth face masks may not offer protection for the wearer, they do significantly reduce transmission rates of the virus. Estimates of asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers vary greatly from 5-80% of all infections. However, there is a general consensus that people who are asymptomatic can spread the virus just as much as those who are symptomatic. Therefore, it would be best for everyone to assume that they could have COVID-19 and wear a mask, unless they are under the age of two, struggle to breathe or are incapacitated. 

If COVID-19 is to be contained, wearing a mask cannot be viewed as a personal decision because its impact is not limited to the individuals who refuse to wear them. Because face masks are better at preventing the wearer from transmitting COVID-19 to others than they are at protecting them from getting the virus, the brunt of the consequences of not wearing a mask are actually borne by those around the maskless individuals. 

Cloth face masks are safe for most people to wear for prolonged periods of time. They can be made at home or bought cheaply. They are not difficult or dangerous to wear, so it should not be controversial to ask that healthy adults wear them in public. Refusing to wear something that could save others’ lives is an act of selfishness, not a protest for your individual freedom. Wearing a mask needs to be seen as an act of protecting public health, rather than a political statement.