For those outside the Wheeling area, I’m not kidding – this morning’s editorial in the Wheeling Intelligencer really did ask that question.
So why are so many people refusing to use them? At times, it seems almost as if their attitude is that older people who may contract the disease indirectly through those who reject masks don’t matter.
That’s not much of an answer. I think there are a couple of reasons; the most important being that President Trump has turned not wearing a mask into a political statement. To that end, the president also expects those around him to be maskless. Want another example? This one is from yesterday’s Medal of Freedom ceremony. Notice that, other than the media and two children, no one else is wearing a mask:
(Stay classy, Mr. President!)
Would it have made a difference if the President had worn a mask from the beginning of the pandemic?
I looked for research that might answer that question. Earlier this year, a medical researcher, Robert Hahn, examined the connection between Trump’s not wearing a mask and virus deaths. Hahn’s findings were then featured in an article in The Harvard Gazette:
Calculating possible fallout of Trump’s dismissal of face masks
From the article:
Public health officials say that Trump’s attitude undermines their efforts to get Americans to embrace safety guidelines to prevent spread of the disease. “Whether it is his intention or not, the consequence is that he’s undermining scientific authority, trust in science, and trust in scientists,” said K. “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH). “We know from our data and other data that the greater the trust in scientists and researchers, the greater the likelihood of compliance with public health mitigation measures.”
Trump’s remarks also set Robert Hahn, Ph.D. ’76, to thinking. He’d heard the president blithely suggest disinfectants, UV light, and hydroxychloroquine as potential COVID treatments during White House briefings in April. The veteran Centers for Disease Control (CDC) epidemiologist began wondering how Trump’s many scientifically unsupported pronouncements might be influencing public behavior, particularly with admirers. He was especially intrigued about the wearing of face masks because of how regularly the president questioned their efficacy and mocked those who wore them, despite that both the CDC and World Health Organization have urged their universal use.
More to the point:
“While I know there’s no direct evidence of how many people act in response to his statements, I wanted to try and quantify this,” said [Robert] Hahn, who published his estimates in a new paper in the International Journal of Health Sciences.
Hahn estimates that as many as 12,000 COVID-related deaths can be attributed to Trump’s negative or false assertions about face masks, but he readily acknowledges that his results hinge on sets of assumptions of how much influence the president’s comments had on mask-wearing behavior.
(Note – Hahn’s study only encompassed the period from April 3 to July 21.)
Okay, as the study notes, Trump is not responsible for everyone who does not wear a mask. I think it is safe to assume, however, that the President has a major influence on many of his followers. How many lives might have been saved had Trump started wearing a mask in early March while also encouraging everyone to wear one?
As for the Intelligencer, the past four years of not criticizing Trump would certainly give it the credibility with his followers to write: “We regularly support President Trump but, on this matter, please ignore the president and wear a mask. It will save lives.” Yeah, I know – it’s not going to happen.
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