As America reopens, public sentiment about masks will shape what role they play in the country’s pandemic response. Policy makers, business owners, and unions must decide where masks should be recommended or mandatory. Individuals must decide how scrupulously to heed mask rules, as well as whether to wear masks when doing so is optional or even discouraged.
Getting mask use exactly right may be impossible. We lack full information about the efficacy of masks in many settings, and different people have different value judgments about mask mandates.
Still, the evidence is now quite robust that masks are effective in at least some settings. If Americans simply studied the evidence and behaved accordingly, erring on the side of caution, many lives could be saved––which makes it frustrating that hugely influential broadcasters who reach millions of Americans are turning masks into yet one more front in the culture war, telling their audiences that elites favor the use of face coverings to take away the freedom of the masses.
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham is perhaps the worst offender, in part because she clearly understands the value of mask-wearing in public. In late March, some public-health officials that had cautioned against wearing masks suddenly reversed themselves, and media outlets followed suit. Back then, the Fox News host was an enthusiastic proponent of face coverings. On March 22, she tweeted a compliment of a DIY face mask. “Going back to most jobs after 15 days will require new protocols until this virus burns out,” she tweeted on March 23. “Everyone within 6 feet of others MUST wear masks, constant hand washing, gloves, protective goggles if needed.” On April 3, she alluded to previous top-down cautions against wearing face masks while criticizing “experts.”