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August 12, 2020

Mask Wars and Pandemic Theater

Politicizing the coronavirus has led to widespread distrust and angry outbursts.

In the midst of a global pandemic, the cloth mask has become the “Baby on Board” decal of our time, a way of letting everyone around us know that we care, even if the symbol of our virtue signaling is of debatable worth when it comes to actually slowing the spread of the virus. And thanks to constantly changing and often contradictory guidelines and dictates from our leaders, the issue has become a source of deep contention, at times leading to violence.

Back in March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, told us, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.” Fast-forward a few months, and now Fauci insists not only that everyone wear a mask and social distance but that we should probably wear goggles as well.

Unless, of course, you are Dr. Fauci at a Washington Nationals ballgame, sans mask, goggles, or social distancing.

Or there’s the governor of New York, leading the state with the most COVID-19 deaths in America, coming down to Georgia to explain to those rednecks how to handle a pandemic, talking to and hugging dozens of people while not wearing a mask.

Despite the oft-repeated claims that masks will save countless lives, the World Health Organization, while recommending the use of cloth masks by the general public, nevertheless admits, “At the present time, the widespread use of masks everywhere is not supported by high-quality scientific evidence, and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.” Then again, this is the WHO

In many restaurants across the country, you must wear a mask from the entrance to your seat, but you may remove it when seated. Apparently, the virus-drenched vaporous exhalations stay perfectly situated around the table and don’t drift toward other patrons.

The whole thing is an exercise in pandemic theater — doing things to show you care, even if those things don’t actually do anything to improve the situation. And who could have imagined just six months ago that differing opinions on cloth masks would lead to grown men and women screaming at and physically assaulting each other?

It has been said that a crisis doesn’t build character; it reveals it. Well, considering the sheer number of busybodies pouncing on anyone violating masking and social-distancing guidelines, there seem to be a lot of petty tyrants among us.

In Manhattan Beach, California, a deranged woman screamed at and threw coffee on a man for the crime of eating his lunch outside without a mask. In San Diego, a couple sitting at a dog park, eating their lunch, were approached by a woman who began screaming at them for not wearing masks. As the husband tried to calm the lunatic woman, she sprayed him in the face with Mace.

In Alaska, a prominent — ahem — psychiatrist punched a man in the face for not wearing a mask inside a grocery store. In a Staten Island grocery store, an enraged mob surrounded a maskless woman, screaming at her and telling her to get out. Ironically, in doing so they violated social-distancing guidelines. In Pennsylvania, a man was arrested after punching another man over a woman who was not wearing a mask. In Georgia, a woman screamed at a mother and her children for not wearing masks, telling the children, “I hope you die!”

To be fair, there has been some unjustified violence and unhinged outbursts from people sick of being forced to wear masks as well.

The escalating conflicts over masks appear to be rooted in two related sources. First, people are suffering from increasing anxiety and fatigue over the virus, putting them on edge. It’s nearly impossible to escape the relentless coverage of the virus, and because it has been so politicized, millions of Americans have no idea what to believe. A recent survey found that, on average, Americans believe that 20% of the U.S. population has contracted COVID-19 and that 9% (equal to three million people) had died from it. In reality, just 1% have been infected, and just 0.04% have died from it.

Second, a lot of people simply take umbrage at being lectured by strangers, and eventually they push back.

So you now have a segment of Americans who believe the Wuhan coronavirus is a plague of extinction-level proportions, and roughly the same number who (understandably) believe the pandemic has been hyper-politicized and thus don’t believe much of anything they’re told about the virus.

And when Democrat governors and mayors shut down churches and gyms but leave open liquor stores and casinos, and when they vilify business owners for reopening against shutdown orders yet praise violent rioters and looters, can anyone really blame the skeptical?

Regardless of anyone’s position on the efficacy of wearing masks, there is no excuse for a disagreement to escalate into public humiliation, browbeating, or physical assault.

If you want to wear a mask, wear one. If you don’t, then don’t.

“My body, my choice,” right?

(Visit our comprehensive COVID Pandemic response and recovery page to review our comprehensive timeline on government and political actions related to the pandemic, and see our related pages.)

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