Wearing Masks and Public Safety
As several states experience surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the debate over wearing face masks is creating a sharp divide. Nearly everyone in the public health community says masks worn in crowded places can help slow coronavirus spread—but some Americans perceive mandatory mask-wearing as coercive government overreach or a show of conformity. Watch the video and answer the discussion questions below. This video has been edited for length. To watch the entire segment or read the transcript, click here.
- Though deaths from coronavirus have been trending down through the month of June, newly reported cases and hospitalizations have begun to spike in some states such as Florida, Texas, California and Arizona.
- Studies continue to show that mask wearing, along with physical distancing, can lower the rates of infection and community spread of the disease.
- Some states such as California require everyone to wear masks in public places. Some states leave decisions up to local communities—for instance, the city of Phoenix made public mask-wearing mandatory on June 19 in the midst of a local surge. And other states, like Texas, have banned cities and counties from fining residents who refuse to wear masks in public.
Discussion Questions: Why Aren't People Wearing Masks?
- Essential question: If evidence suggests masks can reduce the spread of COVID-19, why are people choosing not to wear them? How can more people be convinced or persuaded to wear them?
- Should local or state governments compel citizens to wear masks through fines and fees? What do you think is the best way to encourage people to wear masks in public?
- This clip explains that while the Centers for Disease Control now recommends masks, the organization didn’t recommend them at the start of the outbreak. Dr. Anthony Fauci explains that this is because the CDC wanted to ensure that frontline health workers had access to a limited supply of masks and the benefits of mask-wearing for preventing COVID-19 were still unstudied.
- What do you think the consequences are of an organization of scientific authority like the CDC providing confusing or contradictory information to the public?
- Media literacy:
- How should health and scientific authorities report on public health emergencies when risks are still uncertain or being studied?
- How should the media cover health risks that are still unstudied to avoid confusing or misleading the public?
Have students watch the remainder of this news segment featuring an interview with Dr. Ranit Mishori of Georgetown Medicine. Then have a discussion about media reporting on science and public trust in scientific authority.
- First, have students note the ways Dr. Mishori explains the benefits of wearing masks. What are her arguments? What sources or authorities does she cite?
- Second, ask your students if this interview makes them more certain about the benefits of wearing masks or leaves them with unanswered questions. If students still have some questions, what information would help address those questions?
- Have your students imagine that they are public health officials who are tasked with convincing more people in their communities to wear masks in public.
- What strategies would you use to communicate the benefits of mask-wearing?
- What media would you choose to communicate your message to the public?
- What information would you provide to help convince people that mask wearing is a good idea?
- Have your students find at least two sources to help support their arguments and draft a statement of less than 100 words that argues for the benefits of mask-wearing in public. Share with us here at PBS NewsHour EXTRA (write Victoria Pasquantonio at [email protected]), and we may publish your post on our Student Voice blog!
Reprinted with permission of PBS NewsHour Extra.