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The Case for Mandatory Face Masks

Now that the US Centers for Disease Control is recommending that the public use face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is worth examining the main arguments against such self-protection. Upon closer inspection, they all fall short.

NEW YORK – In some ways, the fight against COVID-19 has brought out the best in American society. More than 70,000 doctors, nurses, and others from around the country have volunteered to help out in New York, which has quickly become the new global epicenter of the pandemic. Demonstrating unrivaled technical capability, the Army Corps of Engineers is rapidly transforming stadiums, hotels, and other buildings into functional hospitals. The country’s private sector is shifting gears to mass-produce ventilators and other medical necessities (though some are doing so under threat of a government mandate). And nearly all states have issued aggressive yet necessary shelter-in-place orders.

Still, compared to South Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, and other countries that seem to have controlled the spread of the coronavirus, the US response leaves much to be desired. Media images from those other countries show something that we don’t commonly see in the United States: ubiquitous face masks. Not only are these simple protective items scarce in the US, but those who wear them are sometimes accosted for doing so. And in some US medical settings, health workers have even reportedly been threatened with termination for wearing their own masks.

Now, the US government has finally issued an advisory suggesting that people wear a face mask when going out in public. But, even at the press briefing announcing this advice, the president stressed multiple times that wearing a mask is voluntary and that he himself will not. This is woefully wrong-headed.

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