Today marks the start of the mask-mandate in Illinois. All persons over age 2 must wear a face mask in any public place in which they cannot maintain a six-foot distance from others — that is, indoors while shopping and in any crowded outdoor place.
Tutorials exist all over the internet: Save the manufactured masks for healthcare workers; use fabric. Use tightly-woven cotton, if possible. Add a non-woven inner layer via an opening for a filter, or a third layer of flannel. The Illinois mandate does not specify that one must wear a “face mask” per se but a covering of the nose and mouth, so that improvised options such as a bandana are also acceptable.
The Chicago Tribune has reported on various mask giveaways such as the group Masks4Chi which is importing fabric masks from Vietnam, as well as various community distribution efforts (which appear to be oriented around manufactured one-time masks). And, of course, large numbers of home sewers have been making masks and selling or giving them away — to nursing homes and assisted living communities, grocery store baggers, anyone they come across who’s in need. (Yes, I’m one of them — my current tally is 118 given away, and another dozen in various stages of completion — and it surprises me that the giveaway efforts don’t have a parallel organized effort to collect donations for the general public.)
Does Gov. Pritzker have the legal authority to mandate mask-wearing?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Downstate Rep. Darren Bailey filed suit against the stay-at-home order’s extension, and won a court victory, for himself, and subsequently Rep. John Cabello of Machesney Park filed suit calling for the same ruling to be applied to all Illinoisans. Are their legal arguments valid? I’ll be honest — I am not seeing reporting that answers that question. Instead, Pritzker and others react as if the pursuit of the greater good of public health prohibits even the asking of that question, though, at the same time, Pritzker has, in breaking news, rescinded a part of his executive order that prohibited religious gatherings, in reaction to a separate lawsuit. (Previously, even drive-in services were prohibited; now they will be allowed.)
And a Chicago Tribune editorial today called for the legislature to meet. Not only could they legislatively affirm Pritzker’s orders, but they could attend to other pressing state business, including the deadline on Monday for placing on the November ballot an amendment to end gerrymandering of General Assembly districts. The editorial notes that a one-time meeting would be sufficient for the legislature to enable virtual meetings; alternatively, Pritzker could use his power to convene the GA elsewhere — columnist John Kass suggests, for more-than-sufficient social distancing, the United Center. Of course, Kass also suggests that, behind the scenes, it’s House Speaker Michael Madigan calling the shots, and refusing to meet, so that Pritzker takes the heat.
What’s more, I’m seeing on Facebook plans to circumvent the mask requirement. After all, the ruling provides an exemption for those who cannot medically tolerate a mask. Claim to those who question you that you’re exempt for medical reasons, further insist that your medical privacy rights prohibit their questioning the specific ailment you have and, voila, you can skip the mask.
But here’s the bottom line: even if you object to the mandate, you should still wear a mask.
Yes, the CDC was foolish in its prior insistence that there is no value in mask-wearing, and, though I’ve speculated elsewhere as to why they did so, I’ve not seen a definitive (and convincing) explanation for this, nor for why, on April 3, they changed their recommendations. But even the Illinois Policy Institute, ordinarily an opponent of Pritzker, states plainly:
The point of wearing a mask is to protect others. The idea is that if one person is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, wearing a mask will limit their ability to transmit the virus to others.
Folks, I’ve been sewing face masks since so early on that when I first picked up fabric and notions I was able to get not only elastic but also “fun” Marvel print cotton fabric straight off the store shelves. Perhaps I’ve spent enough years as an international retirement actuary to have had on my radar more than others that we can reasonably look at what’s going on in other places, and early on it was clear that places like Hong Kong and Taiwan had both a firmer control on the coronavirus than elsewhere and had a practice of wearing masks. (Yes, I first blogged about this on my personal blog on March 16, in which I speculated about whether face mask-wearing could ever take root in the U.S.; four days later, I had convinced myself that sewing was the right thing to do, even though the calls were mostly for healthcare workers. When did I first don a face mask myself when going out to the store? I’m not sure.)
It might feel that wearing a mask gives a “win” to Pritzker, that you’re sacrificing your freedom. I get that.
But face mask-wearing is important to protect those around you, in the event, however unlikely you consider it to be, that you have yourself been unknowingly infected. And even if you judge it impossible to have been infected, face mask-wearing is a visible way to encourage those around you to wear masks, so that any one of your friends, neighbors, or fellow shoppers who is unknowing infectious, will wear a face mask and protect those around them.
I suspect that those who protest this order nonetheless consider themselves to be good citizens who care about the welfare of others, even if they’d rather it not be mandated. I, too, wish we had all adopted mask-wearing practices without a mandate. But that’s where we are. And, to be honest, I am at least glad not to be the “weirdo in a mask” any longer.