A good friend recently asked, “Why are masks so political? What’s so controversial about wearing a little face covering?”
The answer to the first question is straight forward. Masks are political because local and state governments have passed laws mandating they be worn.
Fail to do so and the political powers that be will issue fines, close businesses, and if it comes to it, throw people in jail. Those are decisions made by politicians who’s actions have turned masks into a “political” rather than neighborly disagreement.
The second question is more complex.
Mask mandates are controversial because there are conflicting opinions about their benefits and necessity. These views fall into three broad categories.
First, there are the militant maskers. They tend to read and believe the many studies which extol the great societal benefits of masks. This camp vigilantly dons masks while fully supporting state-mandates for their neighbors who do not cover their faces.
They believe failure to mask will exacerbate the pandemic, overwhelm hospitals and lead to unnecessary deaths. This camp typically focuses more on the overall number of COVID cases and less on the much lower rate of hospitalization and death.
We place a high premium on a sense of personal responsibility that is not coerced by political threats.
Next, there are those on the fence. They’ve read conflicting reports and don’t really know what to believe. Masks might help – might not. They wear masks in some situations, but not all. Many of them oppose mandates, but are willing to wrap up on a voluntary basis – in case it does some good.
And finally, there are those who simply do not believe masks keep people safe from a virus that easily penetrates a cloth barrier. They see masks akin to the emperor who has no clothes. He believes he is covered, but there’s nothing of substance between him and the rest of the world. To pretend otherwise is to perpetuate an illusion.
People in this camp can cite peer reviewed scientific studies, renown epidemiologists and even the initial statements of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Plus, they see mask mandates as part of a larger strategy by the state to micromanage its citizens at all cost – even shutting down whole sectors of society.
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This camp is also more prone to focus less on the total number of COVID cases and more on the much lower rate of hospitalization and death – the latter of which impacts only 0.01% of Alaskans.
Watchman reports have emphasized this third view. We place a high premium on individual liberties, religious freedoms and a personal sense of responsibility that is not coerced by political retaliation and threats.
With past outbreaks and diseases our local governments have chosen to educate and offer advice while allowing churches, businesses and the free citizens of our nation to take the steps they deem necessary to avoid illness. This has radically changed with the arrival of COVID-19.
And, yes, it has turned masks into a highly political controversy.