On Tuesday, May 26th 2020, Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced a statewide mask order, requiring all individuals within the state of Virginia to wear a mask when entering indoor spaces and in areas where social distancing is impossible due to constantly being in close proximity to others. The order will take effect Friday, May 29th.
The executive order has united the Virginia republican party in a decisive way, according to regional analysts, and there are reports of lawsuits being filed to challenge the order. While supporters of the executive order argue that wearing masks may help manage the spread of COVID – 19 by limiting the spread of viral particles between individuals, critics of the order view it as an infringement on personal liberty and also have concerns about whether or not cotton masks actually work.
According to a study, cotton face masks are ineffective in blocking the spread of the virus that causes the coronavirus disease, Sars CoV- 2, when patients cough. This study, published by Annals of Internal Medicine, observed four patients with COVID -19 coughing without a mask, into a surgical mask, a cotton mask, and then no mask again. The researchers measured viral load through both the petri dishes in front of the individuals in the study, as well as taking cotton swabs of the masks that they wore. In three patients, the petri dishes had detectable virus, and in two patients, the exterior of the mask had detectable virus as well. In all four cases, the inner surface of the mask did not always have detectable virus, which would seem to combat the claim that cloth masks are effective in keeping asymptomatic individuals from spreading viral particles. This study prompted the World Health Organization to give additional guidance, encouraging people to stay at home, because wearing a mask may not actually slow the spread of the disease.
Given the results of the previous study, many are also asking about states who have followed the president’s guidance on re-opening and are moving faster on bringing more people back to work as soon as possible without requiring masks to be worn statewide. In Georgia, for instance, Governor Brian Kemp was widely criticized for re-opening most of the state, including allowing gyms and bowling alleys to re-open, yet Georgia has yet to see a significant rise in COVID – 19 cases, and Georgia citizens are not required to wear a mask. In Texas, data has shown a decrease in documented COVID – 19 cases and residents there are also not required to wear masks. Eric M. Strauss, a lead medical reporter for ABC news, reported that the network observed twenty one states that re-opened prior to May 4th, including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia, and found that none of these states have had a major increases in infections, hospitalizations, or deaths. Concurrently, the majority of those states do not require individuals to wear masks.
There is also a direct possibility that the CDC has inflated the count of COVID – 19 patients who have died from the virus. According to The Daily Beast, Dr. Deborah Birx, a top member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, implored the CDC not to include individuals who were presumed to be infected with the virus but did not yet have confirmed lab results, and also individuals who had the virus but died due to other causes. Dr. Birx and other officials were frustrated with the CDC’s method of reporting deaths, believing that the mortality rate and case count were inflated by as high as twenty five percent. That is a serious potential miscalculation on the part of the CDC and would indicate that while the public health threat posed by COVID – 19 is serious, it is not threatening enough for states to remain in such stringent lockdowns and preventing people from returning to work.
In addition, the WHO has also issued additional guidance that healthy individuals, including those who do not exhibit any symptoms of COVID – 19, should not wear a mask unless caring for an individual infected with the virus. Dr April Baller, a public health specialist for the WHO, stated, “If you do not have any repository symptoms such as fever, cough or runny nose, you do not need to wear a mask,”. Dr. Baller also indicated that masks can give individuals “a false feeling of protection,” and that only sick individuals should wear them. If this is the case, then why is Northam requiring everyone in the commonwealth of Virginia to wear a mask?
The text of executive order 63, Northam’s statewide mask order, has significantly dangerous implications when it comes to personal liberty as well. It will attempt to regulate how individuals act and behave in gas stations, public transportation, retail establishments, and churches. With mixed results at best regarding the effectiveness of masks, is it really necessary to implement this much control over individual lives? Also, the timing of this order is very curious, seeing that we are past Memorial Day and many states around the country are re-opening and seeking to return to normal, yet the Northam administration is imposing yet another COVID – 19 based restriction. For millions of Virginians, it will be hard to not see this as another government attempt at overbearing control on peoples’ lives.
Anstaett, C. (2020, May 28). Gov. Northam’s mask mandate has united Virginia’s Republicans, says analyst. WSLS. https://www.wsls.com/news/local/2020/05/28/gov-northams-mask-mandate-has-united-virginias-republicans-says-analyst/.
Casiano, L. (2020, May 29). WHO guidance: Healthy people should wear masks only when ‘taking care of’ coronavirus patients. Fox News. https://www.foxnews.com/world/who-guidance-healthy-people-wear-masks-around-coronavirus-patients?fbclid=IwAR35Mcxr5Zyk8c2jqL1t7a0ZD4TDcyQiAazf3zQzfiRc867_dxQAdMHYhvY.
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Anonymous (2020, March 3). Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html.