As COVID-19 infections are surging all over the place, with multiple states reporting record high infections, the Usual Suspects are still refusing to wear face masks, which are the one measure that's absolutely necessary to prevent further spread of the disease. Especially since, in most Republican states, there's no will at all to take stronger measures like shutting down businesses again.

And while all the public health experts now agree that masks are needed if we're going to have something like a "reopening," the Right is working hard to make masks just one more front in the Culture War. (It doesn't help the public trust that the CDC flat-out lied about masks doing nothing to help curb the spread in the beginning, so as to save the masks we did have for medical professionals. Why not just say "WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MASKS BUT YOU SHOULD WEAR A BANDANNA AND LOOK COOL DOING IT"? So much for credibility, and a few tens of thousands of deaths, guys!)

In the latest iteration, weirdo rightwing gay activist Brandon Straka, who claims to have founded the "Walk Away" movement to encourage liberals to stop worrying and love Trump, cried bitter Twitter tears about his liberty because he wasn't allowed to fly on an airliner without a mask for a flight to Donald Trump's big coronavirus picnic in Oklahoma:

Good one! Also not what happened, according to New York Times reporter Astead Herndon, who was literally sitting next to him on the plane. (Hours later, Straka insisted his first tweet was a "joke.")


But what about his FREEDOM? What about RIGHTS? Why are airlines allowed to make up their OWN POLICIES?

Considering American's policy, we're sure Straka was as truthful about what the flight manager said as about what the flight attendant did:

Straka's replies were full of people who get all their health information from Twitter and Facebook, including multiple people who are absolutely terrified that wearing a mask will kill them with CO2 poisoning, because apparently all the doctors and nurses who wear masks most of the day are actually dead.

Until we have a vaccine (which the crazies will also refuse, and will attempt to disrupt), masks remain the tool that's best suited to keep the pandemic under control. Japan, where mask-wearing is no big deal (when I lived there two decades ago, people already wore 'em whenever they had a cold, to protect others), the infection rate is nothing like in the US, even though the country never had a lockdown. That's what a culture of universal mask wearing does. One study estimated that if 80 percent of a "closed population" — one where new infected people weren't coming in — wore masks, infections would drop to a twelfth of what they'd be if no one wore masks.

More recently, a study published last week found that "the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic," and that social distancing measures alone are "insufficient by themselves in protecting the public." The study, focused on Wuhan, Italy, and New York City, found that compulsory mask orders in New York had reduced infections by 66,000 from April 17 through May 9. The study's authors concluded that

wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with extensive testing, quarantine, and contact tracking, poses the most probable fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine.

Oregon's Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, facing a renewed outbreak, has put the state's reopening plans on hold and mandated mask wearing for all seven counties in the Portland area, which accounts for roughly 55 percent of Oregon's population. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) finally announced yesterday that municipal officials in the state would be allowed to mandate masks — now. In June. That comes just a week after he'd firmly rejected such a move, because he insisted the state needed "consistent" standards that couldn't include masks. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said her city is already drafting a compulsory mask order; she had originally planned to go ahead with the order regardless of whether Ducey gave permission.

But for every public health action, there seems to be an assholish and opposite reactionary. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Duh) issued a June 3 executive order prohibiting local governments from imposing fines or penalties for not wearing masks, and state AG Ken Paxton warned officials in cities to withdraw any "unlawful" local emergency health orders that might be stricter than the state's rules. Several cities have figured out, however, that they can order local businesses to refuse to serve anyone not wearing a mask — a loophole Abbott's office is apparently fine with, but never told municipal officials they could use. Freakin' Texas.

And in California, the Orange County public health director was bullied out of her job over a mask order; that included a death threat that prompted the county to provide her a security detail. The new interim director reversed the mask order. Freakin' Orange County. The decision to chuck the mask requirement prompted the Orange County Labor Federation to take to the steps of the county administration building Tuesday to call for its return, because healthcare and grocery store workers will now face increased health risks. But the speakers weren't even able to speak, because a crowd of anti-mask loonies shouted them down:

Protesters screamed at speakers and pushed them, mocking them for sanitizing their hands. They even tried to hit them in the head with their signs, said Luis Aleman, a project lead for the Orange County Labor Federation.

"They were bent on silencing us," he said. "We expected this to happen, but we are going to be undeterred about our message. We saw 100 folks go out and tell the county Board of Supervisors that we don't need masks. There's a lot more people on the side of doctors and scientists saying that masks should be a required part of public policy."

Even in Arizona, where the state is setting new records for infections and hospitalizations, the state's House majority leader was insisting yesterday the whole thing is just a lot of liberal media hype, in this now-deleted tweet.

Fortunately, the Right, with plenty of help from Fox News and other rightwing media outlets, has been immunized to facts, so even information from Arizona's COVID-19 website can be shrugged off, as I found yesterday when I replied to Petersen:

Nobody's dying from the virus, just with the virus. And if they are dying, they're expendable!

The replies to virtually any Twitter discussion of masks also highlight a key misunderstanding about why they're needed: LOTS of people still don't get that masks are primarily useful in preventing an infected wearer from spreading the virus to others, by catching their own "respiratory droplets." It's not really a matter of protecting yourself, unless someone were to sneeze right on you. That's why "wear one if you're worried but leave me alone" is a lousy argument. How do we dispel that myth, though, when people are accustomed to talking about seatbelts and helmets as a choice that only affects individual safety?

A mask is cheap, only a slight inconvenience, and very effective in preventing the spread of the virus. But how the hell can we communicate that message to people who are convinced that masks are just a liberal plot to make everyone breathe socialism? In a highly individualistic political culture where some people prize not listening to experts, how are we going to get people to do what's necessary to protect other people?

[Joe.My.God. / The Street / WaPo / Tucson.com / LAT / Texas Tribune / Cal Matters / Vanity Fair / LAT / PNAS]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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