Face masks have become one of the most enduring — and surprisingly controversial — images of the coronavirus pandemic that’s been tearing through the US for more than two months now. Anyone who takes a flight on a major US airline right now, for example, will find face masks required for both airline employees as well as passengers. Increasingly, such face coverings are also required when you shop at retail stores, as a complement to other coronavirus-related protections that include also asking that people continue to socially distance inside and to limit how many people can actually be in the store at one time. My local Target store, for example, now keeps customers lined up outside the front door, welcoming in people gradually to keep that number limited inside.
At the same time, we’re starting to see vehement protests of the requirement to wear face masks, with airlines offering a good example of the line that companies are trying to straddle. They want customers — no, they actually desperately need customers right now, with the economy still a mess. They also want those customers to wear a face mask, which can limit the spread of your germs to other people. But for some airlines, the face mask rule is a requirement without any enforcement. You have to wear one during your flight … but there’s no “or else.”
Meanwhile, there are actually a number of states where if you decide to forgo a mask when you’re in public — which a recent study suggests too many men are doing because they feel like a mask makes them look weak or something — there’s no hemming and hawing about whether it’s a rule or a recommendation. Where I live, for example, we’re still in the “strongly urge” category regarding face mask rules. But in at least seven states, if you don’t wear one? You’re actually breaking the law. The states where this is illegal are as follows:
- New York
- Rhode Island
New York was one of the first states that required people to wear a mask in public when social distancing is impractical. An order there went into effect back on April 17. In Massachusetts, meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Baker issued an order on May 6 that mandated everyone has to wear a face-covering in both indoor and outdoor public places when social distancing is impractical.
Here, for reference, is the guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding masks. Because the COVID-19 virus can spread between people in close proximity, even if those people don’t exhibit any symptoms, the CDC “recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”