The Politics of Mask Mandates

Health & Gender Policy Brief # 124 | By: S. Bhimji | August 16th, 2021

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Policy Summary

Almost every month over the past year, healthcare experts have been offering different views on the wearing of masks in public places and schools. The subject has become very controversial and now permeates the political arena. In July of this year, most schools had plans for reopening but now with the rapid spread of the delta variant, schools have had to readjust their plans.

Because there are no Covid vaccines for children under the age of 12, the only preventive method today is social distancing and masks. But the new mandatory rules governing the use of masks in schools have created enormous turmoil and controversy especially in  southern states with a high number of unvaccinated individuals.

Mask mandates and other mitigation measures have led to an ongoing debate among government-run schools and raging parents who want to be the ones to make the decision rather than the school or the government. Many school board meetings regarding mask mandates have resulted in chaos, screaming, and shouting by irate parents who have hurled threats at healthcare workers and school board members.

At issue is the recently reinstated mask mandate in many schools that require all students to wear a mask in the classroom when they return to school in the fall. The core problem is that many parents feel that their personal freedom is being compromised, in a nation that has always valued liberty and independence. But liberty also comes with responsibilities. While one can choose not to vaccinate themself or don a mask, there is a risk that they may harm another individual or impose healthcare costs on the hospital, if the fall ill. More important liberty does not release that person the liability from any harmful consequences of their choice.

The mask mandates that have appeared intermittently over the past year have now become a thorny subject and many Americans feel that the government is bullying them. In addition, the draconian measures that led to business shutdowns and loss of jobs are still fresh in the memory of most Americans. In many parts of the nation, there is a deep distrust and resentment towards the government and healthcare workers.

Policy Analysis

The two states where the mask mandates have created extreme controversy are Florida and Texas. Recently the governors of both these states banned school districts from making mask mandates.

And while some schools have agreed with the governor’s orders, others have resisted. The Broward County School Board in Florida has ignored governor DeSantis’s ban on mask requirements and vowed to keep the masks in place for staff, students, and teachers. To further worsen the problem, Governor DeSantis has defied President Biden and his mask recommendations for schools, telling the president to first secure the border.

DeSantis has gone one step ahead and threatened to withhold salaries of school district officials who ignore his mask mandate ban. This has spurred the White House to support Florida schools that defy Governor DeSantis’s order with federal dollars if the governor withholds money from them.

Earlier this week, four teachers in the same county in Florida died from Covid 19, three of whom were unvaccinated.


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Like Florida, the governor of Texas has also prevented schools from introducing mask mandates but some schools have opposed his ruling; in fact, a recent Texas court ruling announced that Governor Abbot’s ban on mask mandates is not legally binding.

Healthcare experts warn that the politics around mask mandate may allow the delta variant to rapidly spread across the nation, especially in people who are not vaccinated and even in children, for whom there is no vaccine. Just this past week 94,000 Covid 19 cases were reported in children and nearly 4.3 million children have tested positive for the infection since the onset of the pandemic.

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President Biden has strongly criticized the politicization of the mask mandate by the governors of Texas and Florida, stating they are undermining the safety of millions of children. Hundreds of Florida physicians have asked DeSantis to repeal his executive order restriction on mask mandates in schools but the governor has not budged.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health has urged Americans to understand the benefits of masks. Collins recently stated, “This is not a political statement or invasion of your liberties. This is a life-saving medical device, and asking kids to wear a mask is uncomfortable, but kids are pretty resilient,” 

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.


Guidance for Wearing Masks

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Risk compensation and face mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Face Masks, Including Surgical Masks, and Respirators for COVID-19

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