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Row erupts in US over making facemasks compulsory as evidence for wearing them mounts

America’s a great country, but sometimes you really do wonder what’s going on:

For those of you who care about this stuff, DeWine is an old-school conservative Republican, closer to George W Bush than he is to Donald Trump, though he’ll be out on the stump for Trump this November. Ohio, as always, will be critical to determining who the next President is.

The issue with facemasks appears to be becoming yet another one of America’s dopey culture war battles, with some Governors ordering people to wear them in public, and then people refusing to do so on the basis that it’s Democrat tyranny, or Republican oppression, or whatever. In Michigan this week, somebody actually got shot dead, apparently in a row over wearing facemasks:

“In Flint, Mich., a security guard at a Family Dollar store was fatally shot on Friday afternoon after an altercation that the guard’s wife told The New York Times had occurred over a customer refusing to wear a face covering, which is required in Michigan in any enclosed public space.

Police officials declined to comment on details of the case but are still looking for the suspect, who fled. The family of the victim held a vigil on Sunday night with cars lining up around the store where the shooting took place. A news conference was planned for Monday.”

The problem with the facemask thing is that there are two competing facts about facemasks, both of which are true, and both of which can be totally ignored, depending on your preferences.

The first is this: Facemasks do not protect you from the Coronavirus. But the second is more important: They protect everyone else:

“Masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer. Protecting the wearer is difficult: It requires medical-grade respirator masks, a proper fit, and careful putting on and taking off. But masks can also be worn to prevent transmission to others, and this is their most important use for society. If we lower the likelihood of one person’s infecting another, the impact is exponential, so even a small reduction in those odds results in a huge decrease in deaths. Luckily, blocking transmission outward at the source is much easier. It can be accomplished with something as simple as a cloth mask.”

This is the thing: If everybody wears a facemask, then everybody gets some degree of protection. But if only some people are wearing facemasks, then the level of protection falls off a cliff, because even if you’re wearing one, you can still catch Coronavirus. You’re much less likely to pass it on, but you can still catch it.

People who’ve decided that facemasks are a terrible restriction on their personal liberty, etc etc, obviously focus on the fact that masks won’t stop you getting the virus. But we all wear them, then driving down the famous R-rate thingy (why, oh why, can’t they just say “contagion level”) to less than one, or approaching zero, is very achievable.

So ideally, wearing facemasks would be compulsory. But DeWine is a politician, and he needs to be re-elected. So the very best he can do is probably to advise people to wear masks and hope that the vast majority of reasonable Ohioans make that choice for themselves.

Conservative website Hotair shares that theory:

“On the right, where the mask is often seen as the symbol of a purported overreaction to the coronavirus, mask promotion is a target of ridicule, a sign that in a deeply polarized America almost anything can be politicized and turned into a token of tribal affiliation.” That point about “overreaction” is key. If you’re a COVID-19 truther of whatever stripe, there’s no better way to communicate that fact than by refusing to wear a mask. Anyone can be in denial about a deadly contagion, but declining to take the most basic precautions against infecting oneself and others is serious denial.

Anyway, DeWine understands that he’s competing with the truthers to influence Ohioans who remain open to persuasion on how seriously to take the disease. If he uses a heavy hand by requiring masks, they’ll leverage that as a new grievance. If he uses a lighter touch, there’s less material. He’s better off with exhortations than with mandates. Government usually is.”

What a strange, wonderful, country.



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