As the world starts to open up again after the initial wave of Covid-19-sparked lockdowns, most countries and experts agree about one thing: Wear a mask.
Sure, there are hold outs. President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has spoken out against masks and US President Donald Trump famously didn’t wear a mask to a mask factory (even after he was asked to), but aside from those two mavericks (sarcasm font needed here), the world is in mask-wearing mode. And with good reason.
Fighting Covid-19 is a learning process and though our knowledge isn’t perfect at this moment – the elderly and immunocompromised aside, we still don’t know why some people get super sick while others are largely asymptomatic – but strict and proper mask-wearing has been found to stop the spread of the virus.
Countries where SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) made mask-wearing a quick reflex, such as Taiwan, have had little to no interruption to their day-to-day life as Covid-19 cases have remained low.
So then wearing a mask is essential and everyone is doing it, right?
Well, most people are doing it. But in the United States there is an anti-mask movement. There are videos of local government meetings in Florida and California in which people declare such things as “masks make you re-breathe the unhealthy air that you just expelled”, and that they go against “God’s wonderful breathing system”. But mostly people are upset about their civil liberties being tampered with – their inalienable right to go around without wearing a mask.
My knee-jerk reaction to this is that this is some form of freedom gone awry. That in today’s hyper individualistic society – the United States being arguably the most individualistic of all – people have a hard time thinking about others and making the sacrifice of smelling their own breath while wearing a mask to save lives. But I’d be wrong.
Turns out the same thing happened during the influenza pandemic of 1918. In San Francisco, after the initial first wave of cases and when the curve was flattening, citizens headed to the streets happy for the whole pandemic to be over – which of course it wasn’t. A second wave started and the government made mask-wearing mandatory. This gave birth to the Anti-Mask League. A group that opposed masks on the grounds that they were an affront to being free. Because doing whatever you want, even if it endangers others, seems to be something people will fight for in any time period.
The science behind the non-mask wearing ideology came largely from a single health official who reasoned that even with mask-wearing around the world the number of infections went up. And that was the end of his argument. Of course, the easy counter argument would be that the number would have gone up even more without the preventative effect of masks but I suppose he didn’t think that far ahead. In any case, the Anti-Mask League seemed to peak when they held a protest and 4,500 people showed up to fight for their right to put themselves and others in danger because masks insulted their civil liberties.
I’d never heard of the Anti-Mask League before. And probably never would have except there are now anti-maskers popping up during this current pandemic. But the reason I’d never heard of them, and I’d bet most people have never heard of them, is because the Anti-Mask League is mostly only notable for its stupidity. Clearly, during a pandemic if experts tell you to wear a mask, you should probably wear a mask.
It’s worth noting here that the kinds of masks we need to wear during this current Covid-19 pandemic don’t necessarily need to be the N95 respirators, which are heavy duty and filter out most viruses, and which can indeed be uncomfortable to wear. With Covid-19, droplets expelled when speaking and breathing tend to be the culprits that spread the virus so anything that covers your mouth and nose will help cut down on the spread of the virus and keep others safe. So the N95, with its affront to “the wonderful breathing system” of the Almighty need not be used.
I suppose you could think about the anti-maskers now and the Anti-Mask League of 1918 and get discouraged, that some people are always going to take offense at common sense. But 4,500 people showed up for that Anti-Mask League protest 100 years ago, and in 2020 no protest against wearing masks has had that many people, so I take that as a sign that while there will always be dumb people, the majority of us are getting smarter.
Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally as a model for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries and lifestyle programming. Write to him at email@example.com and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.