Why Can’t America Stop Trolling Science and Wear a Mask?

There’s no debate here. When ideology trumps science, everybody loses.

If things continue as is, by November 1, Covid-19 will have killed more than 224,000 Americans. The adjusted forecast, released last week by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), is largely attributable to the surge in infections and hospitalizations in states like Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida. No place on Earth is immune from the pain and suffering this global medical crisis has wrought, but the United States of America has behaved as if it’s determined to lead in deaths.

The latest IHME projections went up by 16,000 — a nearly 8% rise — but there’s a simple way to prevent more than 40,000 deaths from that dire total. All Americans have to do is stop trolling science and wear a mask.

“If 95% of Americans wore masks each time they left their homes,” the IHME said in a statement, “infection rates would drop, hospitalizations would drop, and forecast deaths would drop.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees. “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Dr. Howard Bauchner. “I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”

But things rot from the head down. I remain my angriest at the person influencing these fools. As I’ve said it for months to anyone who will listen: We were collectively doomed when Donald Trump couldn’t be bothered to put on a mask.

On Monday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams took to Fox & Friends to literally beg viewers to do just that. And he used a curious new position to make his case: According to him, “This whole administration is now supportive of masks.” I usually have a soft spot for people named Jerome thanks to kinfolk and old episodes of Martin, but this Negro (I’m not Roger Stone) used the word “now.”

Now.

It’s been months since the coronavirus pandemic began, so “now” sounds about 140,000 deaths too late. But the only thing more loathsome than what Adams said was the fact that his claim remains meaningless — and will be for as long as the administration refuses to act.

As we learned the day prior in President Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, while Trump professed to be a “believer in masks,” he continued to display a flippant attitude toward the science. When Wallace mentioned that the CDC stresses that widespread mask-wearing in America can reduce its infection rates, Trump barked back, “I don’t agree with the statement that if everyone wore a mask, everything disappears.”

A simpleton loves nothing more than to tell you that they “don’t agree” with a fact. In this case, the facts (based on new reviews of a range of studies) are that wearing a mask can reduce your own risk by up to 65% and that if all people wore a mask transmission from asymptomatic people would be cut by nearly a third. I don’t know who took Donald Trump’s SATs, but I do know that the American education system ought to focus less on multiple-choice tests and more on critical thinking in order to minimize the odds of another dummy like this having sway over our fates.

Between that and his claim that “masks cause problems too” — a conspiracy theory aimed straight at the people who have become convinced that Covid is a hoax and masks are a tool of social control — it’s no wonder that Trump, “very stable genius,” is so impressed that he “aced” a test requiring him to identify the star of Dumbo. But nothing sounded more inane than his rationale for refusing to issue a nationwide mask mandate: “I want people to have a certain freedom and I don’t believe in that, no.” The person currently sending secret police to cities like Portland to escalate peaceful protests is a champion of freedom?

Meanwhile, Trump’s surgeon general is trying to convince Fox News viewers that science has nothing to do with the Constitution. If anything, Adams sees it in more moralistic terms. “Please understand that we are not trying to take away your freedoms when we say wear a face covering,” he said. “We’re not trying to take away your ability to go out when we say keep restaurant capacity under 50%. We’re saying if we do these things, we can actually open and stay open. We can get back to school, to worship, to jobs. We can do this. And I’m a hopeless optimist. But I really do believe Americans will do the right thing.”

Adams must be an optimist if he went on a Fox News program and tried to use reason with an audience craving anything but. Either way, this is the sort of statement that presidents are supposed to make when faced with a national crisis, not their appointees. Too bad I don’t share his optimism about what can be expected to happen under this president.

While his pleas seem earnest, this American nightmare can’t be solved solely by the actions of Americans. Yes, I resent people confronted with the fact that masks can prevent the spread of the coronavirus — and elect not to do so anyway. That includes Trump loyalists, people who liken masks to the Holocaust, and folks insisting on partying inside or at packed gatherings. All of you motherfuckers are a) goofy and b) on my last damn nerve.

And those of you (usually boomers, almost always White) who are posting photos wearing lace and mesh masks like you’re cute, why is this a game to you? It’s like you’re actively trying to court and spread “the shit,” as my countriest folks back in Houston are calling it. How many more Zoom funerals, how many more stories of mask doubters dying, do you need to hear about to take the hint?

But things rot from the head down. I remain my angriest at the person influencing these fools. As I’ve said it for months to anyone who will listen: We were collectively doomed when Donald Trump couldn’t be bothered to put on a mask.

In May, the president reportedly was worried that wearing a mask would “send the wrong message” and make him look “ridiculous.” He focused on reopening the country’s economy while minimizing its medical crisis, not grasping how intertwined the two were. People died — people are still dying — because a stupid, insecure, shallow man was worried that we wouldn’t think he looked like the Lone Ranger in a mask and couldn’t understand that the economy won’t work if a sizable portion of the workforce is sick and/or dead.

Even a fool should be able to tell people to put on a mask. Even a man of little intellect and curiosity should be able to grasp that doctors should be in charge of medical crises. No adult should believe you can simply ignore a medical crisis and have it go away. But here we were again, with Trump doubling down using the logic of a broken clock: “I’ll be right eventually.”

Republican governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Brian Kemp of Georgia followed Trump’s poor examples to predictably disastrous results for their citizens — the Black and Brown of whom are being infected at triple the rate of their White counterparts. And for local government officials who did buck the president, they were reminded of how little influence they yield by comparison. “When we were trying to get people to wear masks, they would point to the president and say, well, not something that we need to do,” Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, told the New York Times as part of a lengthy exposé on the Trump administration’s failings on the pandemic.“People follow leaders. People follow the people who are supposed to be leaders.”

Adams is likely to see similar results from Trump’s core audience on Fox News. Worse, Adams is trying to rally people’s better consciences on behalf of the Trump administration, even as the Trump administration is trying to cut funds for more testing, contact tracing, and money to the CDC. Between that and the administration trying to take control of Covid-19 data reported to the CDC, it’s clear what the Trump administration’s collective message to people during the pandemic: Go ahead and die — just be quiet about it.

By comparison, in France, face coverings became required in all public enclosed spaces as of Monday. On Friday, England will begin enforcing new rules that make masks mandatory inside supermarkets and other shops. The differences in those countries and ours can not be tied to personal responsibility.

We didn’t have to repeat the same (ultimately lethal) mask debates that we had with the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago. We could have been better. He could have been better, and in the process, cemented his reelection that he’s so obviously obsessed with over public health. But by Monday, when he finally tried to reverse his poll slide by wearing a mask, the damage was long done — not that using racism is really a helpful way of encouraging people to do the right thing.

The people protesting masks aren’t the cause of these issues, but a symptom. The entire country saw what happened in New York in the spring; medical authorities advising the government knew exactly what was needed to prevent other states from sharing that fate. The fault here lies solely with Donald Trump, the person with more control over what happens in America than any other American. His personal negligence has let untold thousands of Americans die. His putting on a mask on Monday does not change that — and certainly not when he’s actively spreading more misinformation about the pandemic, as he doubtless will when daily White House coronavirus briefings resume this week.

If Americans do the right thing and mask up en masse, if they finally do the one thing that will help us put this nightmare to rest for good, it won’t be because of the president. It’ll be because science means more than ideology. That’s something we’ve been always been able to count on — I just hope we still can.

Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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