Ripping Away the Face Masks

Terry Schwadron
4 min readJun 25, 2024

Terry H. Schwadron

June 25, 2024

Some friends just got covid. My brother discovered his summer cold was covid.

As we head into the summer season, early indicators show the country is likely to experience an increase in covid infections. During the week of June covid test positivity was reported at 5.4% nationwide, an increase of 0.8% from the previous week, and upwards of 12% in the Western states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Still, the rates are well below public danger levels that we had two and three years ago.

But what we are hearing are lawmakers continuing to push back against the use of facemasks, not suggestions — far from mandates — to take a cautionary note. Indeed, in states as politically divergent as North Carolina and New York are talking about laws to ban mask wearing on public transportation or altogether, apparently in response to a desire to identify scattered protests involving anti-Semitic shouts.

Student protesters in Ohio, Texas and Florida have been threatened with arrest for covering their faces. The Washington Post notes that decades-old laws against masking — often crafted in response to the hooded terror of the Ku Klux Klan — are on the books in at least 18 states and D.C., according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law.

So, we have a continuing and increasing anti-mask trend at the same time as seasonally rising communicable disease. The immunocompromised and some civil libertarians who have criticized mask bans as a tool against protesters of police shootings, economic inequality and environmental injustice say the bans are being revived now because covid is no longer treated as a public health emergency — and the rise of anti-Israel protest.

A Debate Topic

It is likely that some form of this balancing act will play out in Thursday’s presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, both of whom had promoted face masks as part of public health protections, and both of whom have found themselves trying in different ways to say that mandated behavior is to be avoided if possible.

The general perception is that while there may have been a period of high contagion in which public health measures were needed after 2020, the political, economic, and educational and social price of enforced medical isolation over an extended period of years may have proved to be too high.

So, we now have had Trump saying that he would withhold federal moneys from schools that require face masks, for example, and Biden specifically noting that the government should avoid mandates if possible.

Of course, this also is timely since we’re seeing the early stages of avian flu that has spread to cows, and now to a handful of dairy workers in close contact. The presidential debate might instead focus on the need for Biden to re-open a White House office on pandemic preparation that Trump had ordered shut.

Instead, the more popular version circulation in right-leaning media and circles is that the real evil is government overreach, not communicable disease. It is in that spirit that Congressional Republicans have renewed efforts to go after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the virologist, as if he is personally to blame for the disease, and not governmental delays in addressing the public emergency. Republicans on the House oversight committees demanded that years later Fauci produce clinical evidence that staying six feet or so away from one another during an airborne contagion was advisable, skipping over, say, common sense for personal protection for “the general welfare” of Americans.

No, it’s apparently more important to “freedom” that people get sick when they don’t needn’t.

Third-party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has based much of his campaign on anti-vaccine and anti-government disease efforts, much of which Trump is embracing as slogans without seeming to understand that every school district in the country requires vaccination against certain communicable childhood diseases or the consequences of ending those programs.

Culture War Fronts

More generally, we’re seeing much the same playing out in local votes in North Carolina to stop a water district from adding fluoride to reservoirs or over whether there is an innate right of consumers to drink raw, unpasteurized milk, despite whatever health consequences might come about.

The advocates see no constitutional force to allow for government to order additives or behavioral practices in closed, captive situations like schoolrooms with windows that do not open.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who last week made an announcement that she was considering banning face masks on public transportation, already is rethinking, adding that there is no timetable. Apparently, the circumstances of an unidentified face-covered protestor shouting in a crowded subway station are a little hazy. The governor is working with New York City leaders, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and lawmakers to study how to bar New Yorkers from wearing face masks in certain areas after masked subway riders committed a recent series of hate crimes targeting Jewish New Yorkers.

We’re so law-enforcement minded suddenly that the free speech argument is getting lost amid hearing messages that we may not want to acknowledge.

In New York, at least, legislation to ban face masks would have a long list of exemptions, the governor said, including people who wear face coverings for religious or health reasons, a cultural event or holiday costume. But, she noted, an increasing number of New Yorkers have used face masks to avoid police detection while committing a crime.

In North Carolina, Republican state legislators just want to tell the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that he can’t stop them from enacting a ban on masks for whatever reason they want it.

In any event, we’ve ripped the face mask off a debate that skips those who just want to protect themselves from getting sick.