Mask-wearing culture amidst a politically polarized United States: to wear or not to wear?

BART riders on the San Francisco/Daly City rail on April 28 seen wearing masks and socially distanced, following the recommendations set by the CDC to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Scarlet Schwenk

Photo Essay By Scarlet Schwenk, POLITICAL EDITOR
Mask wearing has taken a sharp political divergence in the U. S. between the Left and the Right: who will and who will not wear a mask? The heightened polarization dates back to the 2008 Obama administration, continuing on through the Trump administration and into the current Biden administration.

Unlike major industrialized countries where masks are not a political statement, such as EU countries, the U. S. uniquely politicized the face protectant, becoming a point of contention and driving force of the spread of Covid-19, according to health experts. Doctors and scientists around the globe came to a unanimous conclusion: mask-wearing helps prevent the spread of Covid-19, thus reducing spikes in cases globally and across the continental U.S.

A year into the pandemic, those living within the U. S. have argued across the political aisle on whether or not mask-wearing is safe, effective, or allows the government too much ‘power’ over citizens’ rights. In turn, the hyperpolarization has had negative effects on friendships, physical health, and businesses both big and small across the country.

“My shop was closed for three months, which albeit was scary enough as it was, but then my grandfather died from Covid-19 and when I [reopened] my shop, I was faced with people pushing back and vocalizing their disdain for mask-wearing… that this was some big farce spurred up by a tyrannical government,” small business owner Jess Melancon said.

The growing disdain between those who do and do not wear masks continues to elevate with the rising death counts affecting millions across the world, disproportionately affecting already marginalized communities.

“I’m sure I’ve lost quite a few sales because of my stricter [mask wearing] policy… [but] I’d prefer to have customers with core values [of compassion],” Adrienne Beatty, owner of Panic and Swoon in Placerville, Calif. revealed.
In juxtaposition, Autumn Fowler said, “It is the people’s inalienable God-given right to wear a mask if they so desire to not wear one… we are not a country of conformity, we are a country of free thinkers and it is time we start acting like one by unmasking the fear and lies.”

With the introduction of mass inoculation, the Center for Disease Control continues to adjust its guidelines, easing mask-wearing mandates, leading to the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as many Americans frame the issue. However, many subjects captured below who have been wearing masks for the past year will continue wearing them until they can feel safe about unmasked interactions for both themselves and the general public.