Facemasks Become a Political Symbol
Facemasks were not a part of the political landscape at the start of 2020. But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, their importance and availability have become fodder for public debate and outrage. Facemasks have now become a political symbol for liberals.
Facemasks are now recommended for all Americans spending time in public places. But some Americans consider them to be a symbol of liberalism and a cause for defiance, taking a page from President Trump’s book. The facemask has thus become a political symbol – one with substantial public health implications.
Facemask recommendations have evolved
CDC guidance has evolved throughout the COVID-19 crisis as researchers have deepened their understanding of how the virus is spread.
While medical professionals have always been encouraged to wear protective facemasks, the rest of the populace was advised that wearing facemasks might be a good idea. That advice has changed, and wearing facemasks in public is now strongly recommended to prevent viral spread.
The CDC’s softer advice on facemasks in the pandemic’s early days may have been the result of inadequate personal protective equipment stores for medical professionals and public servants.
A desperate run on medical-grade facemasks by frightened citizens would have crippled the healthcare system beyond the handicaps it was already facing. Once medical facilities were better stocked with the supplies they needed, the CDC likely felt more comfortable issuing a firm recommendation that everyone wear a facemask in public.
Trump’s influence in the facemask debate
President Trump has not always supported or adhered to public health recommendations. He chose not to wear a facemask in public settings even after the CDC strongly recommended that Americans do so.
This act of defiance resonated with far-right Americans, many of whom have seen the pandemic as a political tool. Conspiracy theories abound about the origins of the novel coronavirus and the political and economic reasons for shelter in place orders. Some Americans believe these theories and use them as justification for not wearing a facemask, as they believe COVID-19 should not be feared.
Other Americans simply believe they have the right to choose whether or not they wear a mask, regardless of the implications for public health. To some, facemasks are a symbol of government control and are associated with liberal politics. Ironically, some of these same individuals have become violent toward private businesses that have adopted their own facemask requirements and protocols.
A new symbol that sets liberals and moderates apart
Bipartisan, scientific data suggests that facemasks are a reliable way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Many liberals and moderate Republicans acknowledge that data and are adhering to public health recommendations by wearing facemasks in public.
To some on the far-right, these facemasks are symbolic of political conspiracy and government oppression. To liberals on the left, facemasks are symbolic of human compassion and putting the greater good above personal comfort. For everyone in the country, facemasks are a matter of public health and a tool that can reduce the spread of a deadly virus that attacks our must vulnerable neighbors.