The world of entertainment is beginning to open up again after months of postponed award shows, celebrity home selfies and mask PSAs. Some musicians and comedians are starting to perform again at outdoor venues that allow for social distancing, some stars have resumed meet-and-greets and some actors are again stepping out onto red carpets.
Despite COVID-19 continuing to pose a threat, not all celebrities are wearing masks at public events. That's a problem.
Celebrities dressing up and interacting with others in front of cameras like everything has gone back to normal paints a false reality to the rest of the world watching them, and they aren't the only ones: Politicians, athletes and other public figures are subject to this critique, as well. Things have not gone back to normal, no matter how much we wish they could.
Whether we like it or not, celebrities are role models. They influence fans through sharing personal stories about their own lives, be it about an illness, parenting issues or politics, notes Kerry Ferris, a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University. "So following their lead when it comes to something as important as coronavirus prevention makes sense, as well."
As of Monday, the United States has logged more than 7.7 million coronavirus cases and more than 214,000 deaths, both the highest numbers of any country, according to USA TODAY and Johns Hopkins data.
Experts such as Dr. Jake Deutsch, the founder of Cure Urgent Care in New York, say celebrities have a duty to wear masks – even if they're 6 feet apart from another person and even if they've already had the coronavirus – because fans are watching, and they'll do as they see.
"The idea is that you're wearing a mask to protect yourself and others," he tells USA TODAY. "It's also a sign of respect for others and keeping the message that we all need to participate."
In order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone over the age of 2 wears a mask "in public and when around people who don’t live in your household," unless a person "has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance."
Many major stars with millions of social media followers, such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Jennifer Aniston, Tom Hanks and Kerry Washington have been vocal about urging their social media followers to wear masks and social distance. When Lady Gaga performed at the MTV VMAs in August, she made it a point to promote mask-wearing, showing off a different elaborate outfit and matching mask every time she returned to the screen.
"Stay safe," Gaga told her fans during the show. "Speak your mind, and I might sound like a broken record, but wear a mask. It's a sign of respect."
But other stars have been photographed being less than careful when it comes to mask usage.
Country singer Morgan Wallen lost out on his "SNL" gig as a musical guest last week after a video went viral of him partying in Alabama without a mask, which violated the show's health protocols. Cardi B threw a packed birthday party in Las Vegas over the weekend, photos and videos of which appeared to show guests sans masks (USA TODAY has reached out to her representative for comment.). Duchess Kate, Prince William and other members of the British royal family have resumed indoor and outdoor engagements, where they wear masks for portions of their visits with members of the public, but not the entirety. Lana Del Rey went viral earlier this month after wearing a sparkling, see-through mesh mask with holes in it that provided little face covering.
"Definitely a questionable use of a mask in her situation, and we all should strive to have better equipment. If you want to be fashionable, put it over the surgical mask," Deutch said.
Rey's mask in particular was a bad idea because it featured "large, porous spaces" that made it "essentially like not even wearing any protection," Deutch added, though he noted that the singer wearing a less-than-ideal mask was still helpful, because it opened up the conversation about what is and isn't safe.
"Fashion is not more important than safety," he added.
Celebrities and fashion go hand in hand. If a coat can sell out just because Duchess Kate wore it, why can't fashionable stars like Lady Gaga do the same for masks?
"We are used to holding celebrities up as style mavens, so the fact that masks can be seen as a fashion statement makes a difference," says Ferris. "They can influence us with their fashion sense."
If getting the cute picture is so important, taking your own at home first is a safe option. Plenty of stars have had their makeshift photoshoots for Instagram at home. Some, like Chloe x Halle and Catherine O'Hara, took part in drone magazine photoshoots from a safe distance. "Nailed It!" host Nicole Byer even got her own Emmys step-and-repeat backyard backdrop for September's virtual award show.
What a treat! @johnmilhiser got a full ass step and repeat for Emmys to celebrate my nomination (I didn’t get it) since there’s no actually ceremony, he’s one of my favorite people. I did my hair and makeup... I’m sure you can tell and the dress is from my closet from I dunno when!
A post shared by Nicole Byer (@nicolebyer) on Sep 20, 2020 at 6:29pm PDT
And when stars do go out for major events, wearing a mask is especially important, both for the safety of everyone in the room and to remind fans at home that the pandemic isn't over yet.
"To those who might have initially resisted masks, celebrities possess special charisma, prestige and high social status that may serve to counteract any stigma associated with masks," says Ferris. "It can't be bad if all these talented, powerful people are doing it, right? Seeing a celebrity wearing a mask or hearing one advocate mask-wearing – especially one who has suffered from COVID themselves – sends the message that it’s important, and it could persuade others to wear masks, too."
'Wear a real mask': Lana Del Rey flaunts mesh face mask to meet fans, takes social media heat
For some Americans, learning that celebrities were vulnerable to the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, served as the ultimate motivation to mask up. Joel Johnson, 50, from Normal, Illinois, recalled watching the first few celebrities share their coronavirus diagnoses back in March as a wake-up call encouraging him to wear a mask and start taking the virus seriously.
"Sure, the image of a star wearing a cool-looking mask helps," Johnson told USA TODAY but noted that he is more heavily influenced to wear a mask when a major star reveals their COVID-19 diagnosis.
Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson's announcement of their COVID-19 diagnoses on March 12 was among the first major announcements from celebrities. Then a few days later came Idris Elba and wife Sabrina Dhowre, both of whom Johnson, who is Black, thought prompted "Black people (to start) paying more attention as a group" and helped normalize the idea of needing to protect themselves and others.
Do people in the public eye ultimately have a duty to showcase the importance of mask-wearing? Deutsch says yes.
Though he previously had the coronavirus – which theoretically could mean he is protected from contracting the disease again, though the CDC has not yet officially made that determination – he says he still wears a mask "all the time" because it sends the signal to others that it's important. He and Ferris both noted how the politicization of mask-wearing has made it more difficult to encourage others to exercise safety cautions.
"We all have to participate," Deutch adds. "We can't make it about politics. We can't make it about what you think is right. We have to follow science, and wearing a mask acknowledges that the science proves that they work."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Why celebrities should be wearing face masks in public