Debating facemask mandates

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 7th of May, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Before we get started today, I just want to say thanks to all of you who have sent in special stay-at-home prerolls. It’s really encouraging to hear how you’re making the most of this time and listening to the program!

BASHAM: It really is! I especially love hearing from families who listen together. But no matter who you listen with, we want to hear from you! I’m told our collection of prerolls is starting to run a little low, so if you haven’t recorded one yet, now’s your chance.

EICHER: Just go to and click on the “Engage” tab in the top menu. Then click on “Record a preroll” from the drop-down menu. That will take you to a page that tells you everything you need to know to take your turn introducing the program. Again, that’s

BASHAM: Alright, well first up today: face masks.

At least seven U.S. states now mandate them to mitigate the possible spread of COVID-19. The measures are ramping up as officials prepare to reopen businesses and restart the economy. 

But the trend isn’t without controversy.

EICHER: The recommendations around masks have been a bit nebulous. In Ohio, the governor announced a face mask mandate, only to reverse course the next day. WORLD reporter Maria Baer talked to some of her fellow Ohioans about those conflicting recommendations and brings us this report.


MARIA BAER, REPORTER: Hannah and her husband Dave are walking their new baby around Schiller Park. It’s a charming expanse of grass with a playground and duck pond in Ohio’s capital city, Columbus.

Hannah’s wearing a navy blue cotton mask her mother-in-law made for her. It’s a little too baggy for her petite face. But she does her best to avoid touching it. As she talks, she wiggles her nose every few seconds to jimmy it back into place.

HANNAH: We know these aren’t foolproof, but at least if we can do something to prevent somewhat of the spread…

The masked couple is in the minority at the park this breezy afternoon. Hannah is a doctor and said she and Dave want to set an example.

HANNAH: Also I think it helps, it encourages other people if you see others wearing masks as well, so to normalize mask wearing…

A few days earlier, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced masks would be mandatory for both employees and customers as retail shops across Ohio reopen later this month. He even announced a catchy new slogan the state planned to put on signs:

DEWINE: We’ve summarized it in a little quote: No mask, no work, no service, no exceptions. So every employee will have to have a facial covering…

Other states, local governments, and even entire countries have issued the same order. Citizens in Germany can now face fines of up to $5,000 if they don’t wear a mask in some public spaces. In cities like Birmingham, Alabama, Miami, Los Angeles, and Houston, residents are under similar mandates.

But the day after DeWine announced Ohio’s plan, he changed it.

DEWINE: It’s really become clear to me that a mandatory mask requirement is offensive to some of our fellow Ohioans.

DeWine said officials will still recommend wearing masks. But the state won’t require them. He said he changed his mind in part after talking to a mom with an autistic son. She said he wouldn’t function well with a face covering.

DeWine’s quick course correction is an example of some of the confusion surrounding the use of face masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. In late March, as the U.S. shutdown began, Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News the general public shouldn’t wear them. That was partly to preserve supply but also because they might cause more problems than they’d solve.

ADAMS: There was a study in 2015 looking at medical students, and medical students wearing surgical masks touch their face an average of 23 times… so wearing a mask improperly can actually give you an increased risk of getting the disease.

In a video posted to its website, the World Health Organization still only recommends certain people wear masks.

WHO VIDEO: Masks should only be used by healthcare workers, caretakers, or by people who are sick with symptoms of fever and cough…

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in early April that everyone wear face masks wherever social distancing is difficult, like the grocery store.

BARBARA: I’ve been drinking this, I’ve got my mask in my pocket!

Barbara and James are walking around a Kroger store in Columbus holding Starbucks cups. They’re not wearing masks. James isn’t convinced they’re effective.

JAMES: But to be fully protected you would have, almost to have to look like you’re a surgeon, you know what I mean.

Still, James and Barbara do have masks. In fact, Barbara made them herself. She cut them out of cotton socks.

BARBARA: I seen it on Facebook. Yeah I got these, and I got like three or four other ones, I was cutting them at home. But when I breathe out, I don’t feel the air coming out.

The CDC recommends face masks be made of 100 percent cotton, but the website also includes instructions on how to make them from old T-shirts if necessary.

Jamea is also shopping at Kroger. She’s not wearing a mask because, well, she doesn’t have one.

JAMEA: Well I’m not really worried about COVID-19, first, and second, I don’t have any extra masks…

Jamea said if there was a mandate to wear masks, she’d happily comply. But for now, she said she feels protected by everyone else wearing theirs.

JAMEA: People know if they’re sick to cover their face, so I guess I’m putting my trust into other people.

Officials have worked hard to bust a common myth about face masks—that they’re meant to protect the wearer from getting the virus. They’re actually meant to stop the wearer from spreading it. That’s an especially important strategy in the fight against a virus that often doesn’t cause any symptoms.

And that message does seem to be taking hold—even among people at Kroger caught mask-less. Mario wasn’t wearing one but promised it was just because he forgot it at home.

MARIO: I’d like to see people wearing them, and I feel guilty that I’m not wearing one…

And he was in the minority that day. Although it wasn’t required, probably 90 percent of shoppers still had their faces covered by everything from a medical grade mask to a construction worker’s dust cover and, of course, Barbara’s sock.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Maria Baer in Columbus, Ohio.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Debating facemask mandates

  1. Robin says:

    People are not realizing the impact on the deaf community with everyone wearing face masks. They are unable to lip read, which is a very common form of communication and simple shopping can becomes a frustrating experience. Please be mindful of that fact.

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