Sign of the times: CDC joins World Mask Week

Sign of the times: CDC joins World Mask Week

To mask or not mask, that is the question. It is hard to believe how controversial and fiery the debates are over wearing a face mask but here we are. Five months into the mitigation period of the coronavirus pandemic in America, the CDC has decided to join World Mask Week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pandemic Action Network are partnering with more than 40 organizations to host World Mask Week. The goal is to increase the use of face masks across the globe. None of the other mitigation efforts recommended by public health officials and the medical community meet the kind of resistance as face masks. Social distancing, personal hygiene like hand-washing are all important, and wearing a face mask is another part of the recommendations.

The messaging on face masks got off to a bumpy start. We were told they were not necessary and wouldn’t be helpful in flattening the curve, which was the original purpose for mitigation. We were told that face masks needed to be reserved for medical professionals and first responders. Then, everyone from the Surgeon General to the CDC to the White House coronavirus task force flipped the narrative and told us that we need to wear face masks. The mixed messaging during this plague has been frustrating to everyone.

So, as the coronavirus makes a return appearance in countries thought to have mitigated the disease and new cases stopped being reported, the CDC is participating in World Mask Week. Wearing a mask doesn’t kill the virus, of course, but it helps slow the spread of the virus. The participating health organizations want to “normalize” wearing a face mask.

Dr. Ali Nouri, President of the American Federation of Scientists, said the event will help normalize wearing a face mask.

“If you’re not masking, you’re not just putting yourself at risk but you’re putting other people at risk,” said Nouri. “The more people that understand that and realize that their well-being depends on other people doing the right thing, that’s going to generate more pressure, more momentum and more acceptability of masks.”

Face masks slow the spread of the virus by blocking the spray of respiratory droplets that come from sneezing, coughing, talking, singing or shouting.

The goal of World Mask Week is to encourage people around the world to embrace the use of face masks until a vaccine is available. The initiative will be promoted through social media challenges calling on all people, including celebrities, politicians and health care workers, to post a statement, pictures, or videos of themselves wearing a mask with the tag #WorldMaskWeek.

It’s the same message we’ve heard since we were told to mask up – your face mask protects others around you and their mask protects you. Will this campaign help? Probably very little. I think by now the mask wearers versus the non-wearers have a line in the sand that is pretty well established. Neither side is particularly open to persuasion. The best that can be done now is for the medical community to put out a consistent message. Michael Sheldrick, chief policy and government affairs officer at Global Citizen also encourages mandates put forward by local officials but mandates are a hot button issue in the United States. It certainly is in my own city.

“What we will continue to do is promote clear and consistent messaging to encourage governments also to promote public information campaigns around the effectiveness and importance of wearing masks in public,” said Sheldrick. “This will ensure that it’s both a common sense measure and an act of national and global social solidarity.”

Forbes has an article that lists 10 misconceptions about wearing a face mask. The list includes everything from masks don’t work to wearing a face covering is a risk to the wearer’s health. In order to make face masks cool, the gaming industry will be integrating messaging and images into games.

For example, as part of the #PlayApartTogether initiative, the gaming industry will be integrating World Mask Week messages and images into its games. iHeartMedia will be taking similar steps with their programming as well. Ultimately, wearing is more about caring (for other people, that is), which incidentally is a new Twitter handle adopted by a group from Columbia University:

The argument that requiring face masks is a method to control people is addressed, too. The Forbes piece points to the fact that businesses typically have requirements like no shirt, no shoes, no service, and requiring face masks fall along those lines. And for those saying requiring face masks is unconstitutional, well, that is disputed, too.

Well, John E. Finn, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Government at Wesleyan University, where he taught courses in constitutional theory and public law, wrote for The Conversation that the “The Constitution doesn’t have a problem with mask mandates.” He went on to explain that a mask doesn’t violate the First Amendment by keeping you from expressing yourself. If you can’t talk while wearing a face covering, the face covering is on way too tight. Finn also explained how “the 1905 case of Jacobsen v. Massachusetts shows why mask mandates don’t violate any constitutional right to privacy or health or bodily integrity. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a smallpox vaccination requirement in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

Wearing a face mask shouldn’t be a political statement but this is 2020 so it can be. President Trump is wearing a face mask more frequently in public and the administration hopes his example will encourage his supporters who don’t want to follow the mitigation guidelines to do so. I don’t have a lot of hope that a worldwide push will change many minds. People are pretty well dug in on this issue. Japanese people, for example, have been using face masks in public places like airports for many years. I used to see people wearing face masks in airports and think that it looked like a good idea, especially for those of us who typically are prone to be mindful about exposure to germs. Now it is considered standard behavior.

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