Covid-19

When Personal Liberties, Public Responsibilities, Clash

Before COVID-19, most of us Ordinary People had no notion that wearing a face mask would disrupt and infiltrate nearly every aspect of our lives. Are there any among us who don't notice the itchy skin, the sweat, the instant fog on our glasses, the perceived if not honest suffocating feeling when we exercise, climb a flight of steps? Masks must be washed or carefully discarded once we are back home. And we might run out of masks at any point, so we must always keep stock on hand. In other words, they must be at the top of our mind, all the time.

This constantly reminds us that the pandemic is far from over. Do we have a choice in the matter of wearing them? No, argue the authors of a paper in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. While the whole point of opening up the economy was to let people go back to work, it is the customers' duty to protect the health of frontline workers by wearing face masks, the paper explains. Studies previously focused on outdoor environments, but the current paper highlights the risk of COVID-19 indoors via respiratory droplets, that is made worse if we don't wear protective gear. More importantly, the government's insistence on mask use is backed by science. One review of 172 observational studies across 16 countries finds that face masks could considerably reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission.

The July paper speaking against the perception of violated rights made comparisons to smoking bans that also benefit the public."Both tobacco smoke and COVID-19 are air-based health hazards to workers who may be exposed to them for hours on end. Requiring that members of the public wear masks is a form of workplace protection," said study co-author Michael Vuolo, PhD, associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University in the news release. 

Not Fair To Workers, Researchers Say

Smokers and anti-mask proponents could argue that workers could simply find a new job or others could frequent smoke-free places of entertainment. But this would not be fair to ethnic minorities, who are largely employed by retail and service industries, the authors say. Sporting a mask is an important individual responsibility because workers earning low wages probably cannot afford healthcare if they get COVID-19. It puts them at an unfair risk. Workers who quit have to face several hurdles to receiving unemployment benefits and changing jobs amidst a pandemic may not be easily done in these sectors going through losses themselves. 

Liberal Philosophies Never Say It's Okay To Endanger Lives

The researchers acknowledge that the issue of individual liberties is not to be treated lightly, but that the liberties have limits when it could harm lives. "Even the strictest individual liberty philosophies still recognize that those liberties only go to the point of harm against others. It is clear that COVID-19 is a threat to workers who may be exposed to it and mask wearing can help minimize that threat," Vuolo said.

face_mask Face masks are compulsory to wear in public in more than 20 U.S. states. from etsy

Smoking Bans Are Not The Same As COVID-19 Rules

Another factor the paper points out to counter the backlash on the "infringement of individual liberties" is that the precautions required to ward off COVID-19 are temporary in nature until a vaccine or drug is discovered. This is unlike smoking bans, which are permanent but not strictly implemented. Also, smoking bans are only enforced formally by business owners and employees. Authorities are only alerted for violating smoking bans when the violations are a major health concern, the researchers said. 

"Wearing a mask may seem like a nuisance, just like having to step outside to smoke may seem like a nuisance. But both are a small inconvenience when compared to workers' rights to a safe work environment,” Vuolo said. The study’s co-authors are Brian C. Kelly, PhD, a sociology professor at Purdue University with expertise on public health policy and Vincent Roscigno, PhD, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

Protesting Groups

Without concern for the health of those around them, groups are protesting the restriction of personal freedom either online or out on the streets. One such group is Freedom to Breathe, which issued cards deeming their followers exempt from wearing face masks for various personal reasons listed under the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In an interaction with The New York Times via email the group said the goal is make people “understand their legal and human rights so they can stand up to the unlawful, unscientific and unconstitutional mandates.” Certain cards had the justice department's logo stamped on. It is important to note that Matthew G.T. Martin, the United States attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, dismissed the cards and the informal group as illegal. No charges and arrests were made. 

More recently, The Verge reported that a public group called Unmasking America was removed from Facebook for spreading misinformation on the psychological distress and suffocation caused by wearing face masks. In a bid to counter more such groups and people disseminating false facts, these three researchers wrote the paper explaining why individual liberties are not being violated by the laws requesting citizens to wear masks in public spaces. So far, about 20 or more U.S. states have issued orders telling people to follow this rule. The debate continues.. 

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