New Jersey’s abrupt move to indefinitely postpone the scheduled Thursday resumption of indoor restaurant service was sparked, in part, by media images of outdoor dining and drinking destinations at the Shore crowded with patrons without masks. Faced with an uptick in coronavirus cases, Philadelphia last Friday made mask-wearing mandatory in public places; the city on Tuesday announced it will slow down its own reopening effort, set to begin Friday, by several weeks. As the pandemic’s first wave continues to churn, and caseloads spike across the country, a dozen states including Delaware have announced a “pause” in economic restart schedules as well.
It seems inexplicable that some Americans rightly appalled by shortages of personal protective equipment, including masks, for frontline workers at the start of the pandemic now seem nonchalant, even hostile, to using such gear to protect themselves and others. The so-called “war over face masks,” which has led to ugly confrontations between business owners and customers — including the shooting death of a Michigan security guard — may deter some people from putting on this necessary piece of protective equipment. Worse, the outright refusal to wear a mask has become a bizarre badge of honor among some who see conspiracy theories and nanny state tyrannies lurking behind sensible public health guidelines. Self-styled freedom fighters against masks risk infecting others, and being infected themselves, with an as-yet unstoppable pathogen. What sort of freedom is that?
The fact is that mask-wearing and other basic infection control tools such as testing have helped flatten a rising caseload curve in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states, and have enabled states and cities to emerge from lockdown in cautious phases. Even so, the pressure from businesses desperate to completely reopen after three lost months of income is understandable. The head of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association likened Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to delay indoor service to taking a sledgehammer to an entire industry.
But governors nationwide have had to devise their own approaches in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. Inconsistent and sometimes incoherent messaging from a White House suspicious of science and consumed by reelection politics also doesn’t help. President Donald Trump’s reluctance to be seen wearing a mask — as if protecting oneself and others from viral infection was a sign of weakness — even alarms some of his supporters, including at Fox News. Video showing the methodical removal of social distancing advisory stickers on seats in the arena where the president held an underattended campaign rally June 20 in Tulsa, Okla., appeared to be a stunning signal of presidential, or presidential reelection, priorities.