On 16 Jan 2021, the plan for Joe Biden’s first 100 days was announced. The headline from NPR read “Biden To Quickly Sign Orders Mandating Masks, Reversing Trump Travel Ban And More.”

The part about “orders mandating masks” caught my attention. That story was tweeted on 17 Jan at 11:00 AM CT.

At a time when national tensions are high, with mandated mask wearing on the short list of grievances for some, is it wise to have a federal mandate? I posted this question on Twitter in response to the above NPR story.

I don’t know if anyone else expressed a similar concern. Perhaps there were others. The following response (or coincidental tweet) came from Joe Biden within an hour.

Biden makes a good point. Regardless of the tensions surrounding mask wearing, there are 50,000 lives that could be saved.

My reference to the non-existent 28th Amendment is my way of pointing out that there’s no provision in the Constitution for the freedom to not wear masks. We don’t have the freedom to drive drunk either. Activities that could endanger others are typically regulated by the government.

Mask Mandate Limited in Scope

The Biden mask mandate will only apply to those on Federal property, or involved in interstate travel. Yet some will undoubtedly see it as an infringement on rights and freedoms.

If the inconvenience and cost to us as individuals is minimal, and the benefit is more than 50,000 lives saved. Will people willingly comply?

Micro Behaviors That Save Lives

There will undoubtedly be many similar initiatives in the future, based on science, where we will collectively need to engage in micro-behaviors that collectively benefit others but don’t impact our lives significantly.

As with a weight loss regimen, there are things in life where the big benefits and results aren’t seen until later. That makes the process harder — even for things that will personally benefit us. So, when we’re talking about doing something for others, and perhaps never personally witnessing the benefit, that’s even more challenging. It’s a good test of our personal ethics.

Mask Opposition

Mask wearing is already popular among those who don’t want to get and spread COVID-19 (or other diseases), but we’ve seen large armed uprisings and protests from some who say that requesting citizens to wear masks violates individual freedom. Some anti-mask activists claim masks are ineffective, despite their ongoing use in a variety of applications. Among those opposed to masks, some believe they can be harmful to health. We will need to wait and see what the response is to this latest development. Hopefully the mood and mentality of the country will shift toward a willingness making small sacrifices for others.

Outcomes

Among countries that took action immediately with citizens observing lockdowns and mandatory mask orders, those nations could go back to normal quite quickly and coronavirus cases were low or non existent. New Zealand has had stretches of time with no reported cases. As of 17 Jan 2021, there are 6 new cases. An interesting article in Forbes noted that countries with a quick response, had the best outcomes — and all had women leaders. [Source: Forbes, 13 Apr 2020]

Over the past year, United States has been testing a coronavirus response that involves many people not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines. The outcome has been over 300,000 deaths making the U.S. among the top five worst countries when measuring deaths per 100,000 people. [Source: Johns Hopkins]

Those who are opposed to masks will say that the deaths in the U.S. attributed to coronavirus are actually from other natural causes, and they give some examples. So, their claim is that the death rate in the U.S. has remained steady and everything is normal. Yet, we know that hospitals are overrun and have reached capacity.

This is part of the struggle in our country right now. Some people are looking to science and big data to get an understanding of the world and make decisions — making small sacrifices for the greater good. Others are obediently following the group think of their tribe, and relying on limited anecdotal evidence to arrive at conclusions and take action.

Even among some who would be willing to make the greatest sacrifice and die for their country, they won’t put on a mask for their country. So, it’s an issue that some people are passionate about.

One Challenge

From a certain perspective, we’re not facing 100 challenges in our country. We’re facing one challenge. Can we collectively think rationally and scientifically to agree on policies that will benefit others and make our nation stronger? That’s the test that lies ahead.