Mask-Wearing Still a Controversy in Virus-Stricken U.S.

People relax as they sit separately in circled-off areas to assure social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic at a park in San Francisco, the United States, May 24, 2020. (Photo by Li Jianguo/Xinhua)

WASHINGTON (Xinhua) — Wearing masks remain controversial in the United States even though public health officials have continued to recommend the use of face coverings in public to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has so far killed over 100,000 Americans.

“There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask. There’s no stigma attached to staying six feet apart,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at an event in his home state of Kentucky on Wednesday.

McConnell is the latest Republican leader who waded into the “politically charge issue” that divides Americans who believe in social distancing and mask wearing and those who don’t — a gap that mirrors political and regional attitudes.

On April 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a recommendation that citizens should wear “non-medical, cloth masks” when it is essential to be in public places, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Previously, the CDC had recommended that only those with COVID-19 symptoms wear masks publicly.

People enjoy sunshine on a lawn marked with circles to practice social distancing in Domino Park of New York, the United States, May 26, 2020. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

Even so, many Americans said they will wear masks only when they have to, such as in grocery stores or to get takeout.

“I don’t wear a mask when I am outside just walking and when there’s no one within close proximity, but I try to remember to take one with me, so I wear it if I see other people getting close to me,” a Washington, D.C.-area resident, who gave her name as Donna, told Xinhua.

Research shows that 73 percent of Democrats are wearing masks to fight coronavirus, while only 59 percent of Republicans are, and people of color are more likely to wear masks than white people, according to a report by The Washington Post on May 15.

There is tension between U.S. state governments and residents, as the White House has given state governors jurisdiction to issue sweeping orders to close economies and require social distancing, to the chagrin of many citizens who bill this as government overreach.

Having been nurtured in a culture that often prioritizes individual rights, many Americans simply feel it’s their right to wear a mask or not. Some have become outraged that the states are requiring people to wear masks, rather than asking them to do so. Multiple videos have surfaced of crowds ridiculing people for choosing to wear face coverings.

Medical workers carry a patient from an ambulance to George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C., the United States, on April 27, 2020. (Photo by Ting Shen/Xinhua)

At a news conference on May 22, North Dakota Republican governor Doug Burgum choked up as he asked residents to “dial up your empathy and your understanding” when they see someone wearing a face mask.

“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” Burgum said. “They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have COVID and they’re fighting.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, on Wednesday called for a cautious approach to reopening the country and implored Americans to wear face masks in public.

“I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing,” Fauci told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Newsroom.”

The senior expert said that while wearing a mask is not “100% effective,” it is a valuable safeguard and shows “respect for another person.”

But many top White House officials, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly refused to follow such practice.

The White House did not require press and staff to wear masks until some of its staffers tested positive for the coronavirus early this month.

Photo taken on May 15, 2020 shows the live broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump speaking at a press briefing at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

Trump has not worn a mask at White House events and public appearances, most recently during his Memorial Day wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery.

He shared on Monday a tweet that appeared to make fun of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, for wearing a mask at a Memorial Day ceremony in Wilmington, Delaware.

Trump is fueling a cultural opposition to wearing masks when “every leading doc in the world is saying we should wear a mask when you’re in a crowd,” Biden said in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash in Delaware on Tuesday.

Calling Trump’s position amounts to “stoking deaths,” he said: “Presidents are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine.”

New York Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that he will sign an executive order allowing private businesses to deny entry to patrons who decline to wear a face covering.

Last month, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, also a Democrat, ordered most residents to wear face coverings in public spaces and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated masks in the city.

(Matthew Rusling in Washington also contributed to the story.)