As we enter a new, challenging phase of the pandemic and consider the next step in reopening our country, many are asking what can be done to ensure safety and the ability to move forward sustainably. Many are calling on leaders at the local, state, and federal level, to make the right decisions so that we can open safely. These include decisions on mask-wearing, social distancing, testing, and many other challenges. One of the easiest solutions among these is to wear a mask– something that some leaders refuse to acknowledge as worthwhile. In addition to helping slow the spread of the coronavirus, mask-wearing is a simple solution that shows care for others. As a nation, we need to take the step of implementing a national mask mandate in order to safely reopen schools and places of work. Getting this virus under control must precede the reopening of our economy, and should be supported by our federal government with a national regulation. 


Masks Stop The Spread

There are no easy answers at this point in the pandemic, and there are limited studies to prove what solution is best in stopping the spread of the virus. While some do not feel that masks are effective, there is now widespread evidence from sources such as the Mayo Clinic that “face masks combined with other preventive measures, like frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.” Despite mixed reviews from some about mask-wearing, there is another important point in this equation– mask-wearing certainly isn’t going to make anything worse. By enforcing universal mask-wearing, no one would be harmed and the virus wouldn’t get worse. Of course, there are situations in which mask-wearing is not possible, and clear guidelines from the CDC could provide guidance for a national mandate. It is important to note that face masks do not prevent all spread of the virus, and should be used in conjunction with other efforts, but that does not dispel their effectiveness and importance in fighting this virus. One of the reasons masks are so crucial is that the coronavirus has been shown to present both with and without symptoms, meaning someone could be asymptomatic and carrying the virus without realizing the effect they are having on their community. By simply wearing a mask, the threat of infection between two individuals decreases significantly, as shown in this graph from Nebraska Medicine. 


Masks Can’t Hurt

In addition to the ease of mask-wearing for most, it is also a kind and thoughtful thing to do, and a way to signal respect for the people around you. Some celebrities are celebrating mask-wearing as a kind act. Actor Dan Levy stated that mask-wearing is “the simplest, easiest act of kindness that you can do in a day,” a sentiment shared by many others. Other celebrities have publicly shown their support for mask-wearing and have posted on social media about its importance. By making mask-wearing mandatory, it is likely more people would wear masks, in turn lowering the virus’ rate of transmission. Any solution with a relatively simple ask and the potential to save thousands of lives, according to this study from the University of Washington, is a solution that should be endorsed by the national government in order to make it truly universal and effective. Another way to think about this decision is as follows: If we eventually find out that mask-wearing was not useful or effective, at least we will be able to look back on this challenge and know that smart decisions were made with the health and safety of others in mind. Add in the fact that this act is as simple as wearing a piece of fabric, and this becomes a needed answer at this moment.


We Need Safety Precautions

Many leaders, on the local, state, and federal levels, are now discussing important milestones to moving forward, such as opening bars and restaurants, and, more importantly, schools. Teachers and students alike are concerned about the idea of opening without proper precautions. Recently, a Nebraska teachers union called for a mask mandate in their county  –a sentiment echoed by many other teacher groups– which would be far simplified if action were taken on a larger scale. If a national mask mandate were instituted, people would likely feel far more comfortable frequenting places of business, going to work in-person, and generally participating in economic activities, which could greatly help jumpstart our struggling economy. Other leaders have also rejected non-mask-wearing, such as Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who recently had a lawsuit filed against her by Georgia governor Brian Kemp after she created a citywide mask mandate. If action were taken on a federal level, leaders like teachers and mayors would not have to struggle to pass these measures, and could instead be supported and propped up by our federal government.


Government Inaction Harms Americans

As it currently stands, our country is a patchwork quilt of regulations, standards, and expectations of behavior. Without federal action, we as a nation are subject to a constantly-shifting landscape of risk and harm, without any equalizing factors. This editorial from the Los Angeles Times also discusses how this lack of consistency has caused our country to fall behind in preventative measures. Some believe that mask-wearing infringes on their personal rights, a thought that our federal government has done little to dispel. In order to move past this, it is crucial that we, as a nation, recognize the importance of mask-wearing and prioritize the safety and well-being of our communities as a whole. The misunderstanding of some Americans– that mask-wearing infringes on personal rights– is only exacerbated when some politicians refuse to wear masks while others tout them as helpful tools to fight the pandemic and help others. This article from STAT News outlines the importance of a national mask mandate and the many nuances that can be taken into account with this type of action. 


Public Health Must Come First

Before our country can deal with the prevalent economic and social struggles in the midst of this tumultuous time, we must find a way to effectively combat this virus. Creating standardized rules and regulations for the American people is a crucial way to start to do this, and a mask mandate is one important aspect of this. In order to make this a reality, it is crucial that people continue to wear masks and support these measures publicly. In states where a mask mandate is currently in place, people should work to follow those guidelines and encourage others to do the same. According to an article from Vox, 82% of Americans support a national mask mandate. In order for a measure of this sort to be successful, states need to set examples by following rules and spreading awareness, while also erasing the current stigma surrounding masks and making this an action anyone can follow to make the world a healthier place.