by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Masks, as Twitter wags have noted, are by now the equivalent of MAGA hats for Blue America. As washed-up child activist David Hogg put it last year, “I feel the need to continue wearing my mask outside, even though I’m fully vaccinated, because the inconvenience of having to wear a mask is more than worth it to have people not think I’m a conservative.”
Such statements capture an unfortunate fact about our society: We’re so politically tribalized that even our response to the pandemic says more about politics than about anything else. That’s especially true when it comes to masking.
In the early days, of course, it was the medical authorities who urged us not to wear masks. Virus guru Dr. Anthony Fauci told Americans that masks only benefit health workers and wouldn’t do much, if anything, to protect against casual transmission. Pundits and “experts” mocked then-President Donald Trump, who said that masks might help. How unscientific! A piece of cloth?
Those pieces of cloth soon became mandatory, as the apparent scientific wisdom flipped overnight (Fauci admitted that his original statement about masks was false or, at least, overdrawn, and mostly motivated by a desire to conserve supplies for health workers.) In very short order, anyone who expressed any doubt about the efficacy of masks in preventing the spread of the Chinese virus was mocked as anti-science and frequently censored for engaging in that neo-Orwellian crime of “spreading misinformation.”
The problem is that despite all the calls to “follow the science,” the science on masks doesn’t actually demonstrate that they are magic talismans against contracting or spreading COVID. In the right circumstances, they are modestly useful. Medical personnel who wear N-95 masks, gloves and goggles while tending to patients very seldom get infected (in fact, when they catch COVID, it’s usually at home, not at work).
On the other hand, the average person walking around Walgreens wearing a “face covering” made of cloth is mostly engaging in Hygiene Theater.