Editorial | Mask up already

Nurses at Montefiore Medical Center Moses Division in Bronx hold protest demanding more PPE during outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York
Nurses at Montefiore Medical Center Moses Division hospital hold a protest demanding N95 masks and other critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to handle patients during the outbreak coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

New York made mask-wearing in public a mandate last April during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave. After bearing the deadly brunt, one would have thought other states and the federal government would have embraced the same requirement.

Not so. With a lack of national leadership from the previous administration, states were allowed to do as they pleased — and mask-wearing requirements were wrongly conflated into a political question of personal freedom.
But there’s a new president in the United States. Masked up to the nines — or to the nose, in this set of circumstances — and following CDC guidance, President Joe Biden continues to demonstrate his commitment to truly battle this virus and lead by example.

On Jan. 29, President Biden issued two executive orders that collectively require masks to be worn at airports, on plains, trains, ships, intercity buses and federal property — although no set date has been put forth for this enactment.
Enacting such a policy on a national level is a huge achievement. For New Yorkers, that doesn’t change very much; last April 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statewide mandate on mask wearing throughout the NY transit system and in public spaces where the 6ft social distancing rule was not possible.

But then came the backlash, with 156 MTA staff reporting harassment and assault between mid-April and the end of July 2020 for their attempts to insist passengers adhere to the new orders. Essential workers in private businesses also faced attacks as they tried to enforce their stores’ chosen policies.

Although 35 states have so far issued a mask mandate, others, like South Dakota, wear their opposition as a badge of honor. Because of the manufactured mask-mandate controversy, the CDC reports that just 76% practice mask-wearing. And the virus continues to spread like wildfire.

The issue to prioritize, at this precise moment, is not the anti-masker threat to herd immunity, but how will the anti-maskers react to this new mandate? Hopefully, not with violence or protests — but with acceptance and compliance.
Mask-wearing never should have been a political debate of personal freedom; it’s about personal responsibility, and protecting one another from a deadly virus. 

As critical as getting the vaccine is to finally ending the COVID-19 pandemic, each of us should realize our own ability to protect each other from the virus — by masking up in public.

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