Opinion Graphic

In the midst of a virulent pandemic, we find ourselves scrambling for different ways to stanch the spread of COVID-19. The threat posed by the pandemic is so severe that we have to consider every option on the table. Unfortunately, as with any newly discovered virus, there is just so much we don’t know about it. 

One of the things that we do know now, however, is that masks have been proven to substantially reduce the spread of COVID-19. So, all states should enforce the mandatory use of masks in order for us as a nation to successfully defeat the coronavirus pandemic. 

Currently, there are 19 states which do not enforce mask mandates in enclosed areas. Critics of mask laws, especially in North Carolina, have blasted these mandates as infringements on civil liberties. In some cases, people have cited difficulties in breathing when wearing masks. However, these reasons are overstated if not invalid.

Contrary to popular belief, states that require people to wear masks are not infringing upon citizens’ civil liberties. There are numerous situations where states have enforced various laws to protect the health of their constituents, despite criticism that they bridle individual freedom. Seat belt laws are one example. Every state in the U.S., with the exception of New Hampshire, enforces laws mandating the use of seat belts in vehicles. Compliance with seat belt laws have helped increase seat belt use from 11% in 1981 to about 85% in 2010, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. 

Motorcycle helmet laws are another example. 49 out of the 50 states in the U.S. enforce the wearing of a helmet when riding a motorcycle. A recent study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that motorcycle helmets saved nearly 2,000 lives in 2016, partly due to enforced helmet laws. 

Quarantining laws are a third. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives the government the right to isolate and quarantine individuals for public health and safety reasons. Masks laws are arguably less restraining than isolation laws, wherein citizens are confined to the interiors of their quarters for at least 14 days, and yet, there have been relatively fewer demands to repeal the quarantine laws themselves. 

Implementing mask laws are quite similar to the seat belt, motorcycle helmet and quarantining laws. These are all laws which slightly moderate individual freedom for the better health of the community. Furthermore, under the 1905 court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled that individual liberties of citizens can be tempered by the state for the good of the public. This, I feel, is completely applicable to the current situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called on all Americans to wear masks, having found a substantial amount of evidence that the wearing of masks significantly reduces the infection rate of COVID-19. By enforcing masks laws, state governments could drastically reduce the infection rates of COVID at a negligible cost.

Beliefs that masks impede and, in some cases, force wearers to endure moderate carbon dioxide poisoning are completely unfounded. There is no evidence whatsoever that masks cause low oxygen levels. Some have argued masks force the wearer to endure uncomfortable sensations, but these are small prices to pay for the improved health of those surrounding wearers. 

Others have pointed out that mask mandates should not be pertinent for those with respiratory illnesses. However, a number of doctors have actually said it is imperative that those with respiratory conditions wear masks in public, and if it obstructs their breathing, then they could switch to plastic shields. 

As citizens of a democracy, we have an obligation to protect not only ourselves but each other. What makes mask laws different from seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws is the mask considerably protects not only the wearer but those surrounding the individual. 

What’s more is countries that have enforced mask mandates have seen promising returns. Slovakia, Vietnam and Germany are just a few of the many examples of countries that have made masks mandatory nationwide and have consequently kept the risk of transmission low. Britain and France are doing the same. We, as US citizens and members of the North Carolina community, should demand the mask mandate on a national level.