How Did Masks Become Politicized?


Richa Sharma, Editor

The pandemic of Covid-19, or the Coronavirus, has run rampant throughout the world during this past year. This virus has heavily impacted the lives of billions of people, especially those with underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk. According to Worldometer, as of December 13th, 2020, there have been over 70 million reported cases and 1.6 million deaths from the Coronavirus. The virus is transmitted through the air, and scientists have determined a successfully preventive measure: face masks. Combined with social distancing, masks are remarkably effective. However, they have become a highly controversial and politicized debate in the United States. 

 The concept of a face mask, an effortless yet inhibitory measure, has evolved into a massive debate between Republicans and Democrats in the United States. According to NBC News, SurveryMonkey reported that 97% of Democrats wear masks, whereas 70% of Republicans do. Republican leaders tend to be less outspoken about them, while Democratic leaders strongly vocalize their opinions about the importance of masks. In an article published on June 29, 2020, The Guardian suggests that this debate has turned into a “culture war,” polarizing citizens. Anti-mask protests have been spotlighted through social media, with people arguing that masks infringe upon their individual freedom. 

Many suggest that President Donald Trump plays a huge role in this conflict. According to the LA Times in an article published on July 14, 2020, the president was not seen wearing a mask until mid-July, almost five months after Covid-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic. This not only sent the message to his supporters that masks were unnecessary, but it downplayed the severity of the virus. On multiple occasions, he mocked his then-opponent, President Elect Joe Biden, for wearing a mask. The Guardian mentioned that he even claimed that citizens who wore masks only did so as a political statement against him. However, President Trump suddenly decided against this and began to encourage Americans to wear them, as it would be “patriotic.”

Although not as political, others suggest that the uncertain messages coming from public health officials about wearing masks in the beginning of the pandemic created confusion among Americans. According to Axios in an article published on June 24, 2020, officials urged people to refrain from buying masks, in fear that healthcare workers would run out of supplies. This could have caused confusion about wearing masks at all. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, masks are now heavily encouraged.

Why is this debate important? United States citizens are further dividing themselves during this difficult time in the pandemic. Instead of coming together to battle the harsh consequences of Covid-19, people refuse to abide by suggestions and put themselves and others at risk. The United States’ pandemic response has been the worst globally, with the most reported cases and deaths. The prevalence of the virus in the country has had significant effects on the economy, which has drastically declined. Daily life has been affected with school and work closures, limited contact with friends and family, etc. Until masks are fully mandated, or people begin to follow suggestions, Covid-19 will likely continue to spike and affect more and more people.