By: Andrew Koh
Despite all of the scientific data and evidence given to support the CDC and WHO’s guidance and recommendations to wear protective face masks to prevent the further transmission of Covid-19, there is still a stark polarization and politicization of a public policy measure that should be championed by all citizens in its proven prevention of spreading Covid-19 cases and deaths. As we continue to face the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic with over 8.2 million confirmed cases and 220,000 deaths in the United States, the inability or downright refusal by some public officials and states to enforce the mandatory wearing of face masks has caused increased skepticism in the severity of Covid-19 and distrust towards the scientific and medical organizations trying to inform and protect the public from this deadly pandemic.
According a Pew Research study (2020), “61 percent of Republicans believe that the worst of Covid-19 is behind us compared to the 76 percent of Democrats who believe the worst is yet to come.” This comes as no surprise due to the lackadaisical and reluctant response President Donald Trump and the GOP have made towards rallying around the public policy efforts of the CDC and WHO with their public safety guidelines on wearing protective face masks to stop the transmission of Covid-19. “Trump voiced support for masks, but rarely wore one. He even ridiculed political rival Joe Biden for consistently using a mask — just days before Trump himself tested positive for the coronavirus when attending a White House super-spreader event celebrating the sudden Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, on October 2nd” (Peeples, 2020).
There is a lack of trust from the right side of the political spectrum towards the scientific and medical sectors, despite study after study detailing the effectiveness of face masks in Covid-19 prevention including “a recent study published on Health Affairs, which compared the Covid-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and Washington D.C. as it found that mask mandates led to a slowdown in daily COVID-19 growth rate, which became more apparent over time. The first five days after a mandate, the daily growth rate slowed by 0.9 percentage-points compared to the five days prior to the mandate; at three weeks, the daily growth rate had slowed by 2 percentage-points.” (Bai, 2020).
As thousands of American citizens continue to be sick and affected by this global pandemic and the inept response by the Trump administration, the American people deserve the right to be informed of the critical information, backed by science, that can save their lives and protect the people and communities around them. Guided by the public policy option Congress has to invoke the Spending Clause, there needs to be a federal mandate on the wearing of protective face masks for the prevention of transmitting Covid-19 to lead the United States in the containment of the disease, while allowing the steps needed for contact tracing to occur in providing symptomatic and asymptotic citizens the treatment they need.
By invoking the Spending Clause, “Congress would have the ability to tax and spend for the general welfare” (Shen, 2020). This would provide Congress with “the authority to offer federal funds to nonfederal entities and prescribe the terms and conditions under which the funds are accepted and used by recipients” (Shen, 2020). This use of public policy would incentivize states to enact a mask mandate meeting certain federal requirements by imposing it as a condition of receiving certain federal funds as long as “Congress provides clear notice of the mask mandate that states must enact, the mandate is related to the purpose of the federal funds, this conditional grant of funds is not otherwise barred by the Constitution, and the amount of federal funds offered is not “so coercive as to pass the point at which pressure turns into compulsion” (Shen, 2020). This would allow for the enforcement of the policy to come through issuing fines and tickets to noncompliant citizens and already utilizing what states are currently doing to enforce their mask mandates while incentivizing and rewarding states who participate.
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The New York Times. (2020, January 28). Covid World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-maps.html
Peeples, L. (2020, October 06). Face masks: What the data say. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02801-8
Pew Research Center. (2020, August 28). Republicans, Democrats Move Even Further Apart in Coronavirus Concerns. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/06/25/republicans-democrats-move-even-further-apart-in-coronavirus-concerns/
Shen, W., 2020. Could The President Or Congress Enact A Nationwide Mask Mandate?. [online] Crsreports.congress.gov. Available at: <https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/LSB/LSB10530> [Accessed 20 October 2020].
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