As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rear its ugly head, the once-ordinary face mask has become a divisive symbol for many Americans.
For Pete Saenz, the Mayor of the city of Laredo in Texas, wearing face masks is a necessary sacrifice in the continued fight against the coronavirus, which, as of this writing, has claimed over 45,013 lives and infected 813,000 in the United States.
Saenz said the city government has opted to follow what medical experts have recommended, noting that Laredo is a small border city that could be overwhelmed quickly if ever the disease was to take root in it.
“I told them I had to go with what the doctors are telling us. We are a small city, and we can be overwhelmed quickly,” Saenz said.
Others, such as Marilyn Singleton, don’t share his opinion.
Singleton, a physician based in Los Angeles, has opted to not wear one because she says it’s un-American for the government to force people to cover their faces.
“Having people wear masks while they’re walking down a road by themselves doesn’t do anything for anybody. We’re not a police state, and this should be a personal choice,” Singleton said.
“The epidemic is being used as an excuse to put restrictions on people.”
Singleton’s statements, as well as that of others, echo the objection put forth by many Americans after the governors of several states, namely Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania, have issued orders requiring residents to wear face masks once they emerge from isolation in the coming weeks.
“If you are going to be in public and you cannot maintain social distancing, then have a mask, and put that mask on,” urged New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to Cuomo, New Yorkers must wear face masks whenever they are unable to keep six feet away from others in public settings, such as on public transportation, on crowded sidewalks or inside grocery stores and similar establishments.
“Stopping the spread is everything,” Cuomo said during a meeting with the press. “How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?”
Similar orders have been imposed by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, as well as California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has said residents across the nation’s most populous state would likely be wearing masks in public for the foreseeable future.
Most of these orders came after the said states imposed stay-at-home measures in an effort to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
Resentment over the orders, however, seemed to have reached a tipping point in recent days, the evidence of which are a string of protests launched across the country, with protesters demanding that state governments lift their imposed bans on business operations, which they said have battered the country’s economy. (Related: Model shows ending coronavirus lockdown prematurely could cause a devastating explosion of cases.)
Mass layoffs and business closures triggered by the pandemic have left 22 million Americans unemployed.
“Shutting down businesses by picking winners and losers in which there are essential and non-essential are violations of the state and federal constitution,” said Tyler Miller, 39, an engineer from Bremerton, Washington. He and others picketed at the Washington state capitol in Olympia to protest Democratic Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order.
Their protest gathered over 2,500 protesters, defying a state ban on gatherings of 50 or more people. Many of them, despite pleas from the rally organizers, did not wear masks.
A similar protest, held in Denver, saw hundreds of people gather at the state capitol to demand an end to Colorado’s shutdown.
“People should be able to make up their own minds. If you don’t want to go out, if you’re still worried, stay at home. I think you should have the option,” Scott Johnson, a protester from southeast Denver, said in an interview with CBS.
“A lot of these small business owners are getting crushed. They should have the option of being open if the public can make their own decision,” Johnson said, mirroring a statement made by President Donald Trump, who has started to tell states to relax their stay-home orders and reopen the economy – despite warnings from experts that doing so before adequate testing is in place could lead to a devastating resurgence of COVID-19.
President Trump, a staunch Republican, also appeared to endorse protests against strict lockdown measures, noting on Friday that the orders in place in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia were “too tough.”
Similar demonstrations demanding an end to the lockdowns have previously erupted in Texas and Wisconsin, as well as in Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
More protests are allegedly scheduled to be held within the coming weeks.
For the latest updates on COVID-19, head over to Pandemic.news.