As our state continues its gradual reopening, some businesses are requiring customers — including children — to wear face masks upon entering as one more layer of protection against spreading the COVID-19.
The CDC recommends all Americans wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, specifically calling out grocery stores and pharmacies.
But the practice some stores have adopted to require masks has generated an uproar, locally and around the country.
Some Arizona residents view mandatory face masks as a critical, responsible act for protecting public health. Others see any mask requirement as a violation of civil liberties.
Raising Arizona Kids jumped into the fray after shoppers flocked to reopening retail stores last weekend. We polled our audience of local families with this question: “How do you feel about stores requiring shoppers — including children over the age of 2 — to wear masks?”
The responses from more than 325 parents came in strongly in favor of wearing masks.
- 72% of respondents agreed with a statement that mask requirements are “a necessary safety measure for our community,” while 28% indicated that “requiring them is overreach.”
- 64% said they do put face masks on their children over age 2 while in public places, while 26% do not.
Our similar question on Facebook sparked a firestorm of debate.
Those in favor of wearing masks echoed the sentiments of Misti Garcia of Phoenix: “I will be supporting businesses that make data-driven decisions and put the health and wellness of their employees and customers first. Moreover, my friends have vowed to do the same.”
Some respondents are wearing masks in public whether or not they are required. Laura Linquist of Gilbert is among them. “Frankly, I feel more comfortable where masks are required,” she said. “The masks are to protect everyone else around us. If it works, then that’s awesome, I’m glad to do my small part. And if it doesn’t? Well, it’s a minor inconvenience and no harm has been done to me.”
Several others took it a step further, portraying face coverings as a civic duty: “You can’t call yourself a patriot and not care about the health and safety of your fellow American citizens. It’s so weird how polarized this health and safety measure has become,” said Jennifer Bell of Chandler.
Polarized it is. Some respondents firmly opposed what they see as an overreach of authority. For them, there are bigger issues at stake. “I think it that it takes my choice away, so the only choice I have is to not shop there,” said Chelsea Carroll of Phoenix. “If we continue to let this happen, this will be the new normal, and it’s just not the world that I want to live in.”
Ann Swaney of Tucson also is firmly in the anti-mask camp. “I go into stores without a mask and have no problems. We have also not gotten sick from not taking that many precautions,” she said.
Her remark prompted a shocking retort from Jessi Lee of Phoenix. “We have eight relatives (six in Arizona and two in New York) who thought the same thing. One died on Sunday, one is on life support and one in ICU,” she said.
There were different degrees of opposition. Some who won’t wear masks still defended a business’s decision to require them.
“I support business owners’ rights to choose what to require, though I won’t be shopping where masks are required. Also my choice,” said Allie Shobe of Gilbert. “I’m not violating any store’s wishes or policy by not going in without a mask…That’s rude. But I will definitely make other choices as I can.”
The debate even took a detour into whether masks actually offer protection against the spread of the virus. “I agree wearing them doesn’t offer full protection but why wouldn’t someone wear one just for a 5%, 10% or even 25% better odds of not contracting or spreading this?” said John Piasecki of Mesa. “Anyone else can do what they feel is best and I’ll do the same. Freedom is choice is a wonderful thing.”
The CDC has been clear about the fact that wearing a cloth mask does not grant full protection from COVID-19. However, the more people who wear them in public, the fewer droplets will be spread through speaking, coughing, or sneezing. And people who are not exhibiting symptoms can still be carrying the disease.
Antagonism over the mask issue has the Stevens family confined at home. With three generations considered high risk living in one house, they never venture out without masks. But they’re staying in as much as possible because of the way they are treated when wearing their protective gear. “The fact that people choose to not wear masks or even worse verbally attack or intrude in our space, makes us not go out,” said Patricia Stevens of Phoenix. “I will not subject my 8-year-old to an adult who feels the need to ‘Baaa’ or yell at us…I do not fear the virus. I fear people who have made this about US versus THEM rather than ‘humanity’ versus ‘virus.’”
Others didn’t see why the mask issue has become such a big deal. Toby Fox of Phoenix likened stores’ mask practices to a common requirement that shoppers wear shirts and shoes. “No one is taking away your choice, nor are they preventing you from shopping. This argument makes zero sense. The bottom line is that you don’t want to wear a mask,” he said.
And then there’s the “go with the flow” faction, represented by respondents like Justin Bryant of Sierra Vista. He said he’s just glad that business is starting to pick up. If wearing a mask is a condition for reopening commerce, so be it. He keeps a few masks in his car so that he can enter places requiring them: “I don’t wear one normally, but I understand that these are weird times with so much conflicting information, and I’m just glad we’re open…If you ask me to wear a mask to enter your establishment, I’ll do that for you. That’s not a huge sacrifice. We’re in this together. Give each other a little grace, and let’s get this economy rolling.”
Related stories from other media:
- New York Times: A mask-related shooting in Flint, Michigan
- Politico: Name calling over masks penetrates the presidential campaign
- Psychology Today: Why masks trigger conflict and rage
- National Post: An editorial on the topic