While other countries are beginning to go back to life before Covid-19, the United States has reached more than 5 million cases of coronavirus, making it the country with the largest number of cases in the world. With the United States’ flawed politics, lack of funding for public health, and rush to reopen the economy, its cases have been rising exponentially. As things start to get worse and worse along with many Americans refusing to abide by social distancing measures and official advice to wear masks, many states have considered enforcing a mask mandate; however, attempts at mandates have been met with much controversy. While there are those who encourage a government mask sanction to slow the spread of Covid-19, others believe such a mandate would go against their constitutional rights.
Public health officials and politicians have been urging and requiring citizens to wear masks, and not many have been happy with such decisions. Many anti-maskers state that requiring citizens to wear masks violates the First Amendment right to speech and a person’s constitutional right to make decisions about their own health and bodily integrity. In Boise, Idaho, a group of approximately 100 protesters stood outside their city hall and burned masks as a way to “say no to government control.” One protestor stated, “We should be able to choose whether or not we wear a mask in public. There is science showing that these masks don’t do anything.” Another added, “I’m afraid where this country is headed if we just all roll over and abide by control that goes against our constitutional rights.” What anti-maskers are protesting is their right to make choices about their own health and body, aptly emphasized with “My body, my choice.”
In response to a lawsuit against Palm Beach County urging the court to issue a permanent injunction against the county’s mask mandate, the Court declined to issue an injunction against the mask mandate. Citing Jacobsen v. Massachusetts, the Court found that “no constitutional right is infringed by the Mask Ordinance’s mandate … and that the requirement to wear such a covering has a clear rational basis based on the protection of public health.” The Court added, “constitutional rights and the ideals of limited government do not … allow (citizens) to wholly shirk their social obligation to their fellow Americans or to society as a whole…. After all, we do not have a constitutional right to infect others.”
With so many people refusing to wear masks, it can’t be helped but to compare the situation in America to other countries who have already prevented major outbreaks through travel restrictions, tests, contact tracing, quarantining, and mask wearing such as Taiwan and Singapore. Asian countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea have been wearing masks long before the Covid-19 outbreak. In fact, it is normal and considerate to wear masks when one is sick or during the flu season to prevent others from getting sick as well. If other countries can wear masks, why is it so hard for America to do so? It may have to do with how Americans see themselves and their place in the world. Simply put: Americans don’t like being told what to do. On the other hand, Asian cultures tend to put an emphasis on protecting their community and those around them. Americans, however, often care mostly about themselves.
So do masks really work? According to the CDC, masks are able to trap droplets when the wearer talks, coughs, or sneezes. This protects others from saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer. However, this poses the question: Should all people—even those who do not show symptoms of Covid-19—be required to wear masks? Experts say yes, as pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission are possible. Furthermore, researchers predicted that if 80% of the population were to wear masks, it would effectively slow the spread of Covid-19 more than strict lockdown.
So, is a mask mandate really an infringement on natural rights? Not really. Yes, we are owed our constitutional rights, but those rights are held on several conditions. “The most basic and important of these conditions is that our exercise of rights must not endanger others … or the public welfare.” So when you’re met with the choice between your own personal discomfort of wearing a mask and possibly preventing someone else from dying, the answer should be crystal clear: wear a mask.