As face mask orders are enacted across the country, opponents are organizing protests, unifying on social media and challenging public officials on scientific guidelines for mitigating the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, except for children under 2 and people with trouble breathing or otherwise cannot remove their masks without assistance. A June study from Texas A&M University deemed masks “the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission” of COVID-19. During a Friday briefing with the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that everyone has a “societal responsibility” to take all precautions necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing masks.
But a growing movement questioning the necessity of masks due to flip-flopping health recommendations, personal freedoms and alleged health risks is resisting. This week in Florida, angry locals confronted the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners over an emergency order requiring face masks in public, condemning “the devil’s laws” that seek to “throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door” and threatening citizen’s arrests for “crimes against humanity.”
In Arizona, Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips apologized for ripping off his mask at an “Unmask Us” protest and proclaiming “I can’t breathe,” a phrase said by George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis police custody fueled protests around the country. (Phillips later told the Arizona Republic, “I did not mean any disrespect and there was no connection” to Floyd and apologized to the man’s family.)
Both states have experienced record-breaking increases in COVID-19 cases and were included in the CDC’s list of states, including Texas, California and Oklahoma, where the number of new deaths over the next month “will likely exceed the number reported over the last four weeks.”
Sometimes, the refusal to wear face coverings has turned to physical or verbal abuse, such as toward employees at Starbucks, Dollar Tree and Costco who enforce guidelines. The outrage has worked in some states — in May, the mayor of Stillwater, Okla., walked back an emergency order requiring face masks after local employees were “threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse.” And Ohio’s governor reversed a statewide face mask order after realizing that “people were not going to accept the government telling them what to do.”
One Facebook group called Freedom to Breathe Agency (FTBA) created a “Face Mask Exempt” card that included a logo similar to a government seal and a phone number for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Department of Justice warned of “fraudulent” “postings or flyers on the internet” and urged people “not to rely on the information” and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin of North Carolina said in a Thursday news release, “Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle. These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency.”
HEADS UP fellow businesses.... This is not a thing. This is what happens when Arts and Crafts Karens have too much time on their hands. We will throw it in the trash and send them on their way. pic.twitter.com/VKACSA3pRU
— Lance Bass (@LanceBass) June 24, 2020
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for further comment on the FTBA and its mask-exempt cards.
Lenka Koloma of the FTBA, tells Yahoo Life that the government logo is no longer on the card to “avoid any misunderstanding,” but its initial inclusion was to emphasize the group’s mission: “FTBA is formed to educate people about our legal and human rights to breathe freely to maintain optimal health as a personal choice, while not being unlawfully intimidated and coerced. ... People [already have shallow breathing] and further obstruction can lead into serious health conditions.”
She adds, “We want people to be educated on the importance of oxygen from physical and psychological standpoint. Based on that, we want them to have the freedom to choose. That’s what this is about and what America is built on. Freedom to choose and personal liberty.”
The group’s page was removed by Facebook for “fraud and deception,” she says. Facebook did not immediately return Yahoo Life’s request for comment.
Yahoo Life medical contributor Dr. Dara Kass disputes Koloma’s assertion. “The idea that paper [surgical] or cloth face masks would cause hypoxemia [low levels of oxygen in the blood] or hypoxia [low oxygen] is unfounded by science,” Kass tells Yahoo Life.
“Masks may feel uncomfortable, but they’re not causing a metabolic problem,” she adds. “If you are upset or uncomfortable wearing a mask, there are also other ways to cover your face, such as bandanas and face shields, though they may not be as effective at containing respiratory droplets.”
According to Margaret Nygren, the executive director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the FTBA’s card “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the ADA’s purpose.” She tells Yahoo Life that the ADA “removes systematic and physical barriers for people with disabilities so they can fully enjoy their communities, not exempt them. Most people with disabilities don’t want special treatment ... they tend to wear masks and want others to as well.”
Disabilities that cause impairments with the airway, jaw, nose or mouth can theoretically pose exceptions to masks, says Nygren, however people with such disabilities are usually overly conscious about isolation.
“Mocking a very real piece of legislation that makes the difference between life and death for a generation of Americans is disturbing,” she says.
People who resist face masks might experience complex emotions about a changing world.
“If everybody started wearing masks, suddenly, the old way of life is gone,” David Abrams, a clinical psychologist and professor of social and behavioral science at New York University told CNN. “You’ve suddenly admitted that this is the new normal. But you don’t want to believe that.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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