Why has coronavirus become such a political topic? What I mean by this - why are things such as mask wearing so political? Shouldn't we know whether or not wearing masks work? Why does the answer to that depend on if you are Republican or Democrat?

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    @divibisan A couple of counter-points. First, the only place where the mask problem really manifests is in places where it's mandated. If you're not mandated to wear a mask, it's moot what your preferences are. Second, Joe Biden has said he believes he can implement a nationwide mandate, which better ties this into the politics of the question.
    – Machavity
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 2:39
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    I think there are two questions being conflated. There is a difference between "how well do masks work" (which scientists can perhaps answer better than policiticians) and "should everyone be required to wear a mask" (only politicians can create such legal requirements). The currect version of the question asks why mandates are controversial, despite effectiveness being apolitical.
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 9:13
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    I would argue that you should seperate those questions into 3 questions, "How well do masks work?", "Would a fraction x of the population wearing masks prevent exponential growth/keep cases below a threshold" and "should we impliment a mandate to wear masks". The first two are scientific and better understood by scientists instead of politicians (though the phrasing of the second question may be influenced by resource constraints). The third question is for politicians/society to answer, but should be heavily influenced by the answers of the second question. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 15:35
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    @NAMcMahon: But should also be answered by questions such as "What health effects does wearing a mask have other than on viral transmission?", "What social effects does wearing a mask have other than on viral transmission?" and "Are these effects the same in all public venues?"
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 22:21
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    @BenVoigt, yes, I was specifically considering the questions that Mark mentioned as I felt one of them still conflated scientific questions with political/societal choices. It becomes a lot easier to answer this kinds of things when you choose good/precise questions (which is a key aspect of science). Those questions should supplement my third question, and should lead to multiple versions of my second question. But it should also be influenced by sociological questions, e.g. will this number of restriction levels confuse people who will develop poor practices and increase covid transmissions. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 9:49

10 Answers 10


David Easton (a major figure in modern political science) defined governance as the 'authoritative allocation of values', meaning that a government decides what values the community it serves will hold as important, productive, and meaningful. Governance in this sense is the answer to the question: "How do we as a nation allocate our collective time and resources?" Should we send a rocket to the moon? Should we prioritize the fight against cancer? Should we guarantee food security or medical care for all? Should we focus on innovation and economic success? A government might even choose to invest heavily in the military or police, which is consistent with the more familiar aphorism (derived from sociology) that 'a government holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.' But again, 'force' in this context is not arbitrary; force is applied by a government to ensure that certain values are upheld. We might disagree with the values being imposed, and thus disagree that such use of force is legitimate, but that merely reinforces the idea that the allocation of values is a central feature of government.

With that in mind, a topic is political when it involves making decisions about how we will allocate the collective resources and efforts of the community. Tasks which require collective, community-wide involvement — be they as prosaic as building a highway between cities, or as esoteric as strengthening the foundations of the economy — necessarily invoke political question where different people might disagree about what course of action is best. Such political questions inevitably boil to discussions of what we value as a community.

The use of prophylactic masks to control a pandemic was destined to be political issue. For masks to work as a preventative measure, everyone in the community has to agree to use them; there is a value to wearing masks that must be allocated authoritatively so that it applies universally and consistently. This exercise of authority may be as simple as public pleas from authority figures, or public education by medical professionals; or as extreme as lockdowns, quarantines, or legal penalties for non-compliance. Or authority could bend in the other direction, asserting that other values supersede the values of life and health (a value sometimes invoked to encourage military service, but which is rarely effective in other contexts). This first is the path that most nations of the world have followed, and citizens of other nations have generally complied, if grumblingly, because they have been convinced that not wearing masks will do harm to their friends, neighbors, and countries. The politics is still there; this is still an issue of the authoritative allocation of values. But there is such broad agreement with the value in question that the issue is not particularly contentious. Wearing masks is seen as a small price to pay for a potentially large reward to others in the nation, so most people buckle-down and do it.

The US context is somewhat different. Over the past three or four decades the US has seen the rise of a strong nationalist1 movement which resists most forms of authority except its own. This movement explicitly rejects most public intellectual/academic sources of reasoning — the sources that would normally be used to construct values in this situation — and aggressively counter and contradict any efforts to build public agreement on such values. There is a lot of history behind this — disputes over evolution, abortion, climate change and green technology; social critiques of slavery and race relations, the decimation of native Americans, or the wealth divide; rising cultural conflicts like feminism, globalization, LGBTQ issues... — which has given rise to a lot of frustrated anger within conservatives generally, and has motivated this nationalist movement in particular. Issues like 'mask wearing' — which are expressly political, but would normally be considered neutral and innocuous — become contentious here because they are interpreted as just one more way in which the government tries to impose unwanted values. It is a visceral, gut-level reaction against what they perceived as a persistent, oppressive pontification from 'intellectuals' on the left; The movement and its supporter reject wearing masks mainly because it's something they can control among a host of things they cannot (e.g., "I can't make gay marriages stop, but you can't make me wear this d*mned mask").

We could get into the roots of this nationalist movement — why it arose, who benefits from it, what the various issues are) — but that's not the meaningful point. The point is that there are a large number of conservatives in the US who are frustrated with progressives having political control over the allocation of national values — mainly in social policy — and this has culminated in an active movement which has turned to simple disruption to make its displeasure heard. It rejects scientific, academic, and intellectual authority not because it thinks such are wrong, but because it has come to hold that much of scientific and intellectual authority is merely a political tool used by the Left to push its agendas. And since this movement has risen to take control of many (if not most) of prominent leadership positions in the Conservative movement more broadly — not to mention into the White House and Cabinet — it has managed to become the dominant voice in conservatism. Masks have become a public symbol of political overreach in their minds: one that they wish to use for anti-Democrat messaging.

1The term 'nationalist' follows George Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism". He himself acknowledges that the word-choice isn't the best, but uses it because there isn't a better. The nutshell (tldr) is that nationalists are people who invest themselves in an idea so completely that the political success of that idea becomes their foremost concern. Often this idea is the idea of an actual nation (e.g., those overly preoccupied with asserting the greatness of their country), but it can just as easily be applied to a religion, political ideology, ethnic group, or any other abstract group that could be imagined to have its own sovereign status.

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    @Nobody On reflection, I think that this answer is heavily opinionated. I think in essence it says: Government should be authoritative. The right wing is wrong to resist this, and only resist because they don't want to accept common ground with Liberals (which I feel shouldn't be used in the context of discussing civil liberties since it's confusing given the opposite definitions, progressive is a clearer word). Only the last sentence really seems like an attempt at and answer.
    – Brett
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 12:04
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    @Brett Government is by definition authoritative. If following laws is optional, that's called anarchy. And I can respect it if that's what you want, but just don't call it a "government" or a "state".
    – Nobody
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:30
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 17:57

Why are masks political?

Because the handling of the pandemic has become a political issue. The President took a clear position. In a bipartisan, hyperpartisan climate, loyalists of the President must be seen to publicly back him, whatever the facts. Opponents to the President must be seen to publicly attack him, whatever the facts. The fact that one side seems to have public health on their side, at least according to the current state of the science, while the other might have at least short-term economic benefits on their side, hardly matters.

(The comments asked about the economic benefits. If there is a mask requirement, people will spend (and earn) less money in shops and bars because they're scared. Just how scared they should have been was still unclear in the spring of 2020.)

Why have masks become political?

To do President Trump justice, at the beginning the mask issue was complicated by severe PPE shortages.

Can you imagine any political leader going forward: "We believe it is a good idea if you wear masks, but it is vital that you restrict yourself to homemade cloth masks until we have sorted PPE supply for the health system. Even then it is FPP2 masks are for the hospitals, inferior substitutes for you." Yeah, sure.

Various governments worldwide made the transition and took a hit to their credibility. This was not just bad for them personally, the inconsistency hurt their public health messaging. "So they lied about masks. Why should I believe them about distancing or quarantine if that is inconvenient for me?"

But it is not in President Trump's character to admit any error, in whatever context.

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    This answer would become excellent (it's already pretty good) if you incorporate janwee's comment from the question (namely, that masks were not exactly an established medical fact until long AFTER they became political - WHO openly and loudly prolaimed for months that masks were not effective and should not be worn by healthy people - at the very least till June, if not September (the latter was NYT headline but BBC says June)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 12:13
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    @user4012 every statement I can find from the WHO pre June/September is strongly tied to the global PPE shortage. They're aren't recommending masks, not because they don't work, but because they are needed from front line care workers. Here's one from March any benefits to the general public appear to be downplayed to avoid increasing the front line shortage. Though you'd probably need internal Memos to sell that as the official position.
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 12:44
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    @BrianDrummond: When the prevalence was that low, the benefit of a 99.9999% effective mask over a 90% mask or even 50% mask would, for most people, have been fairly small, but the value of having people who might be infected wear masks that were even 10% effective would have been huge. If each infected person infects two others, and takes a week to do so, then in 12 weeks the infected population will grow by a factor of 4096. Reduce the infection ratio to 1.8 and the twelve-week growth ratio will drop by more than 70%. Reduce to 1.5 and it would drop by 96% (compared to the 2.0 ratio).
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 21:34
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    @Jontia most people didn't read that statement as "these are effective, but we need them more," they read it as "these are not effective," causing the WHO to lose face.
    – awsirkis
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 23:44
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    What are short-time economical benefits of REFUSING to wear mask? You are mixing masks with lockdown. But it makes no sense either, because wearing mask might SHORTEN lockdown. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:21

Mask vs Mask

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like N95 masks are always effective against airborne transmitted diseases (when properly used). They were designed for that reason. Any other kind of mask widely available to consumers is less effective than N95. That doesn't make it useless against transmission, but it does mean that when people talk about "masks", you really need to know exactly which kind (PPE or regular) you're talking about.

There's two problems that happened initially which helped to sow confusion

  1. There was a run on PPE (particularly N95 masks), making it hard for healthcare providers to obtain
  2. People turned to other types of masks (i.e. cloth, surgical, etc) that are clearly not as effective at blocking Covid as PPE, but are better than nothing

Where this went sideways was some people were simply told masks weren't effective (without specifying which masks they meant), likely in a misguided attempt to stem the run on PPE (below is outdated advice from March 2020)

WHO officials do not recommend mask wearing for healthy members of the general population.

Or this Feb 2020 tweet from US Surgeon General Jerome Adams:

Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!

They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!

(Dr. Adams later recanted.)

Since then, everyone has had to thread the needle of explaining that any kind of face covering will help, but that it's not guaranteed to prevent infection. Here's an article from the CDC on masks from July.

Cloth masks have been used in healthcare and community settings to protect the wearer from respiratory infections. The use of cloth masks during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is under debate. The filtration effectiveness of cloth masks is generally lower than that of medical masks and respirators; however, cloth masks may provide some protection if well designed and used correctly. Multilayer cloth masks, designed to fit around the face and made of water-resistant fabric with a high number of threads and finer weave, may provide reasonable protection. Until a cloth mask design is proven to be equally effective as a medical or N95 mask, wearing cloth masks should not be mandated for healthcare workers. In community settings, however, cloth masks may be used to prevent community spread of infections by sick or asymptomatically infected persons, and the public should be educated about their correct use.

This has lead to all sorts of confusion. Furthering this chaos would be the inconsistent positions of world leaders. Trump is the easiest target here, since he publicly rejected mask use for a long time

So with the masks, it’s going to be, really, a voluntary thing. You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that’s okay. It may be good. Probably will. They’re making a recommendation. It’s only a recommendation. It’s voluntary.

but Trump is hardly alone, with other leaders like Xi Jinping, Boris Johnson and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador all eschewing masks in public events (all have since reversed course in some fashion).

Inconsistent protest regulations didn't help

While not directly related to masks, it's hard to ignore the fact that political protests over the lockdowns were condemned and restricted while protests over racial injustice were explicitly allowed to go on

“Instinctively, many of us in public health feel a strong desire to act against accumulated generations of racial injustice,” Dr. Lurie said. “But we have to be honest: A few weeks before, we were criticizing protesters for arguing to open up the economy and saying that was dangerous behavior.

“I am still grappling with that.”

To which Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, added: “Do I worry that mass protests will fuel more cases? Yes, I do. But a dam broke, and there’s no stopping that.”

That difference was sometimes quite stark

Take Contra Costa County, California. On June 2, the Bay Area county's Health Services department issued an updated shelter-in-place order that limited outdoor social gatherings to 12 people from the same "social bubble" but rescinded a mass gathering ban to allow for political protests of up to 100 people. This version of the order maintained a prohibition on outdoor religious gatherings.

I should note that there's no evidence these protests caused any spikes in infections but it still damages the credibility of local governments to say you can't have large gatherings, but you can have large protests. Now imagine these same people are saying that they must wear a mask and it's not as surprising when civil disobedience follows.

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    I'm not sure I 100% see the connection between protests and masks. I can certainly see why the protests might lead people to oppose lockdowns and gathering restrictions, but there were no inconsistencies on mask guidance. Governments strongly encouraged masks and protesters wore them, which is likely why there was no spike in infections. I would have expected the response to the BLM protests to lead to a pro-mask, pro-reopening movement based on the argument that the protests show that density is safe with a mask.
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:42
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    Also, it's not totally accurate that BLM protests were allowed to go on. While politicians words were vaguely supportive, even in the most liberal cities, the police violently suppressed the protests right from the beginning. Also, didn't the "Reopen" protests begin well before the BLM protests? Reopen Michigan was on 4/15 while George Floyd's death wasn't until 5/25
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:47
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    The connection is that if the protest regulations were viewed as being used politically it's not a huge leap for some people to assume that the mask mandates are doing the same thing, even if they are not truly the same issue. As to the BLM protests and the police response, it's a mixed bag there, with some protests turning violent without police overreaction. The point there is some places that were the strictest in lockdown went out of their way to issue rules permitting BLM protests. Even the NYT (which I linked) had to note that.
    – Machavity
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:58
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    There's an important distinction to be made here. People weren't told not to wear masks. Healthy people were told that they didn't need to wear masks. It's also important to note that the changing factor was the discovery that the majority of people who caught COVID were asymptomatic but still contagious, which is when the recommendation changed to say that everyone should wear a mask on the off-chance that they were infected without knowing.
    – Abion47
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 18:25
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    LA has acknowledged that protests probably caused a spike in Covid cases. The evidence isn't strong, because contact tracing is hard, but I was suspicious when the linked article didn't acknowledge LAs response. capradio.org/articles/2020/07/21/…
    – Joel Hines
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 18:33

Because there is a significant portion of people in the USA that have a very strong tendency to discard any fact that inconveniences them. We've been sold convenience relentlessly for decades and have come to expect it as our birthright.

We conveniently forget that the reason masks were initially discouraged was to prevent a run on masks, like the run we saw on toilet paper and other necessities when the news first broke during Bizarro Week.

We conveniently forget that masks DID help during the influenza pandemic nearly 100 years ago.

We conveniently ignore all sorts of other things, such as traffic laws and so forth. This is not limited by the rights or convenience of other around us at this point. Listen to any marketing pitch to Americans, and it will invariably tell the listener that they "deserve" whatever convenience is being pitched. After a few decades of this, people start to believe it.

Science gives us plenty of inconvenient facts, like climate change, economic realities of automation and globalization. We, as a group, conveniently ignore history pretty much outright. Some readers here would like to conveniently abscond their responsibility to each other and instead throw mud. That's easier, more convenient if you will, than looking in the mirror for answers. Will it be easier to flag this post as rude/abusive than the unpleasant inconvenience of some soul-searching?

It doesn't take a medical degree to realize that a sneeze inside a mask projects far fewer particles and aerosol than an open face. Nobody has claimed that masks are 100% prophylactic. Scientists repeatedly use the term "reduce", instead of "prevent". Careful attention to actual words is apparently also inconvenient for Americans especially.

Our chief plague doctors DID say, from the very beginning, that the masks were to be held for use by front-line workers UNTIL the supply could ramp up. They NEVER said they don't work; they simply didn't want the idiots to hoard them. If they knew they didn't work, then why save them for doctors? (Would you want a surgeon doing thoracic surgery on you without a mask?)

All of that was out in the open and repeated for the better part of two weeks. That caveat was absolutely NOT buried in internal memos. Conveniently, people have forgotten that, twisted it around, or [conveniently] let others twist it for them, so that they can support their own beliefs to permit their maximum convenience of not being "forced" to wear a stinky old mask. Clearly, their own convenience outweighs the very lives of their fellows. They would rather risk the lives of the people (and their families and friends) around them at the grocery store than wear a mask for fifteen minutes. Psychopathic compulsive convenience rules supreme.

Now, Trump is twisting those remarks and using this as a convenient cudgel against his opponent during an election, which is a purely political ploy.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 17:01

Because any sufficiently prominent politician can make anything they want into a political issue whenever they darn well please. That's sort of the definition of 'political issue' - it simply means a topic that connects to politics. A big enough politician can connect anything to politics by choosing to create that connection personally.

The debt ceiling wasn't a political issue until one side chose to make it so in 2011. It stopped because in 2013, the other side said "Go ahead, blow up the whole world economy if you dare" and the first side decided to let it drop.

Whether something is a political issue has less to do with its actual merits as a problem, and more to do with how hard people decide to fight over it. Abortion is a political issue, and cancer by and large is not. This is despite the number of abortions in 2016 being approximately the same as the number of cancer deaths.

Yet one a political issue and the other not. Why? Ultimately politicians have chosen to focus on one and not the other.

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    Overall good answer, but your last example is bad. They are not apples vs. oranges - a better comparison would be comparing deaths from breast cancer to other forms of cancer; or AIDS somehow being a symbol of gay rights despite most gay men dying from far more prosaic reasons like heart disease or millions of people in Africa dying of diseases most US political activists don't raise noise about.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 22:51
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    The whole point of my answer is intended to be that despite similar numbers, they are different. Numbers don't tell the whole story. Certain topics are easier for politicians to make hay out of, but good politicians can and do, if they work hard enough, make hay anyway in situations where there really shouldn't have been anything to make it out of.
    – Ton Day
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 23:10

Generally speaking Democrats and Republicans have differing priorities - in this case protecting public health vs protecting civil liberties, where each side considers the opposite issue so significantly more important than the other that they're not willing to compromise.

I suspect masks became political is because of the push to mandate wearing them. If it had just been a recommendation, I'm sure a lot of people would have just not worn masks - however because they're being told to do something they don't want to do they're now actively resisting it.

The effectiveness of masks has become a secondary issue in the debate over whether the government should have the authority to mandate the wearing of masks.

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    I'm not so sure. Aren't they just protesting the authority because it's an excuse to not wear one? Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 13:56
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    I don't feel either political party can be claimed to have traditionally been more or less for protecting civil liberties, the problem has always been agreeing on which liberties deserved protecting. Democrats would argue allowing trans people to use the restroom that matches their gender or gays to marry is protecting their liberties after all. The question is why "not wearing masks" became a 'civil liberty' defined as worth protecting. After all if I claimed it was my civil liberty to not wear mask or clothes in public I doubt republicans would fighting as hard to protect that.
    – dsollen
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 19:14
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    "Protecting civil liberties" - including the right to spread disease as presymptomatic covid carrier? Is it a civil liberty worth protecting? Masks mostly protect OTHERS. Maybe Republicans do not care about protecting others much? Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 2:24
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    @PeterM.-standsforMonica It doesn't matter if you or I think it's a right worth protecting, what matters is that there's a divide between the general population on whether it's worth protecting or not.
    – Brett
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 4:01
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    "Protecting the liberty to spread infectious diseases" - I was sarcastic. There is NO liberty to spread diseases. As saying goes, your liberty to wave your fist ends where my nose starts. Population might be ignorant, but we should not be so open-minded that brains will fell off the skull. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 4:58

Honestly - because we live in an era where EVERYTHING is political.

In the past, this wasn't really true. Of course political tribalism has always been there, but people used to argue (sometimes passionately) about a relatively small range of socio-political issues, rather than every social and economic issue being highly contentious and viewed almost exclusively through a political prism and identity politics.

I attribute it to the rise of the internet and the commensurate echo-chamber effect. This isn't a new idea - it's pretty much taken as given these days.

There are some exceptions - like Germany and New Zealand - where mushy, centrist compromise politics continues to be the order of the day, but in most places, we are moving towards hyperpartisanship and the fetishisation of political tribalism.

It's hard to think of any contemporary social or political issue that doesn't attract wild levels of engagement and controversy among the population, and I don't think this was really true fifty or sixty years ago.

  • This cynical general answer fails to specifically account for political partisanship with respect to pandemics, which up to 2020 have were more usually, (AIDs excepted), bipartisan concerns.
    – agc
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:10

One aspect that hasn't been mentioned is that the effectiveness of mask use isn't universal. In a densely populated urban environment, physically distancing yourself from other people is practically impossible. In a regional or rural environment, you might be able to walk, cycle or hang around in a park without coming within several meters / yards of anyone else (or perhaps just with your family with whom you spend a bunch of mask-free time in close confines anyway). Suburban environments fall somewhere in between.

So there's an element of rules being made for inner city populations being forced onto people regardless of circumstance. Given the political divide between urban and rural populations, the voices of those rural populations are raised and amplified by their political community.

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    Suburbs are sparser, but nearly every suburb has a densely packed supermarket, to say nothing of bars, restaurants, schools, etc.
    – agc
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:13

There are two issues here that are often lumped together, especially by observers from outside the US. Separating them makes the problem a bit clearer.

The first issue is whether wearing a mask is something you should do. We're still getting mixed data about when and where masks are or aren't effective or necessary, so people naturally have different opinions. Some people might try to make it political (like everything else), but for the most part people are OK wearing a mask to be on the safe side for now.

The second issue is whether the government can mandate that you wear a mask. This is the part where most of the political opposition comes in. In a system where the government has a limited, specifically-enumerated set of powers, the idea of a mask mandate stands out as an overreach. Most mask mandates are executive orders. One person (president, governor, mayor, etc) decided that masks should be mandatory and used special emergency authority to give that decision the force of law. These orders were not laws passed by the legislature, and in some cases even conflicted with existing legislation or state constitutions. Wearing a mask isn't the political part. The political part is whether one person can choose to ignore the entire system and make what looks disturbingly like a royal decree. The American system was structured to prevent anyone from expanding their own power or authority without an explicit grant from the people, and the emergency powers assumed by many executive branches seemed to fly in the face of those principles. What's to prevent someone from declaring (or creating) an arbitrary "emergency" to seize arbitrary power? That's the core of the political opposition.

When people feel that a law is enacted inappropriately like this, they're naturally more inclined to reject or oppose it, even if it's something they might normally do of their own volition. Compliance feels like you're giving implicit approval for a rule that you fundamentally oppose. That makes it easier for opposition to the process to be mistaken with opposition to the underlying concept.

  • I'm not sure a reasoned objection to political practices is convincing to me, since many of the same people who oppose mask-wearing orders are fine with other executive orders. (Or, honestly, could hardly name any--despite most administrations having a ton of them.) Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 19:28
  • @user3067860 Note that there's a big difference between orders made within the scope of an executive's normal authority, and those made under emergency powers that normally do not belong to the executive (or to government at all). Doubly so when that same executive has the power to declare the emergency in the first place.
    – bta
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 20:50
  • Here's an example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_13768 Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 21:19
  • That's an order directed at state governments, not individual citizens. When an order says that you (personally) will go to jail if you do or don't do something, it elicits a much stronger reaction from individuals. The way that state governments reacted to EO13768 is not dissimilar to how individuals react to mandatory mask orders (refusal to comply, coupled with court challenges). The party with legal standing to sue is the party most likely to object, since they have the power to do something about it.
    – bta
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 22:07

I has to be political because it can't be scientific. If you look at science around the disposable masks used by regular people then science isn't very strong, and at this point (autumn 2020) many articles are still being peer reviewed.

From a European point of you you can see one country (Sweden) having one strategy that is open, and a country right next to it (Denmark) having a strategy with masks etc. In those countries doctors try to follow the politicians.

My guess is that it will be less political and more scientific once some of the studies conducted in the spring gets published.

I know the question mostly is about USA, and here I just think people like to call each other idiots and that is why it escalates there, but that is a guess.

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    This does not appear to be accurate. While I accept there are ongoing studies in peer review and this is almost certainly going to be the case for many years, I expect mask studies and composite data studies on mask usage to be perused strongly for some years, every article regarding the scientific consensus on the issue states they are beneficial. ncbi, nature. Anti-mask articles appear to be lone wolf or niche scientific viewpoints. You need source to support this position.
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 8:41
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    Sweden is the country where people joke about 1.5 metres being closer than the usual distance they keep, right? Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 10:17
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    @Jontia I think what the answerer might be alluding to is that it's (as far as I know) hard to say quantitatively how much the masks help - and if we only really know for sure that wearing them can't hurt, then I guess some people don't think it's worth it to wear them. But I don't think that's really the problem with most people.
    – Nobody
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 10:37
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    @Nobody: A big problem IMHO is that nobody pointed out that masks don't have to be enormously effective at protecting individuals to have a huge impact on the spread of disease. If everyone had worn masks that cut the risk of infection by 50%, and in the absence of masks each infected person would have infect two others, the presence of masks would have made the difference between a disease whose infection rate doubles every two weeks or so, versus one whose where each infected person infects only one other, resulting in a relatively stable infection rate.
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 20:08
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    If you really think that this is going to get less political when the science is more robust then you have a higher opinion of the American people's understanding of scientific consensus than I do. There is overwhelming evidence that vaccines are effective and safe and that they don't cause autism, and yet that is still somehow a political issue. There is overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic climate change is occurring, but that is a huge political issue. Science rarely has much actual sway when it comes to informing public policy
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 22:00

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