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“There’s only one side that’s telling people not to wear masks”: The politics of mask-wearing

<p>Miami has instituted an indoor mask policy this fall. Students who are unvaccinated are subject to COVID-19 surveillance testing. </p>

Miami has instituted an indoor mask policy this fall. Students who are unvaccinated are subject to COVID-19 surveillance testing.

When you walk around Miami University’s campus, it can sometimes be hard to tell that the university requires students to wear masks at all times.

Maskless faces walk up and down the sidewalks, and students can be seen ripping their masks off as they exit academic buildings. 

Originally, masks were only required outdoors when physical distance couldn’t be easily maintained, such as in doorways or other crowded areas. But this policy was changed on Oct. 1 as COVID-19 cases continued to rise on campus, and now masks must be worn in all outdoor areas.

So why are maskless students and staff still a constant presence on campus? If Miami students are following the same trends as the rest of the country, the reason may be politics.

Though masks have been scientifically proven to prevent the spread of COVID, there’s still a heated debate over whether wearing them is necessary, and a person’s stance on the issue is often tied to their political party affiliation. In an NBC News survey, 86% of respondents who identified as Democrats said they always wore a mask when going out in public, compared to just 48% of Republican respondents.

Despite this, Collin Finn, vice chairman of Miami’s College Republicans (CRs), said the association of anti-mask ideology with Republicans is unfair.

“I know there’s been somewhat of a stereotype that Republicans are against masks, but I don’t think that’s accurate,” Finn said. “Most of the Republicans I know here and back in my hometown are strongly in favor of masks — they wear masks because it’s the right thing to do.”

On July 16, CRs released a statement expressing their support for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s recommendations to wear a mask and social distance.

Omar Elghazawi, vice president of Miami’s College Democrats, said that, although not all Republicans are anti-mask, nearly all anti-mask people are Republicans.

“It seems like it’s a very conservative thing to not wear a mask,” Elghazawi said. “I know that might be somewhat unfair, but at the same time, there’s only one side that’s telling people not to wear masks.”

Sophomore biomedical engineering major Madeleine Keller agreed with Elghazawi, saying that most of the anti-mask “propaganda” she’s seen has come from right-wing outlets.

“I would say that the conservative side is more likely to associate wearing a mask with government control and communism,” Keller said, “and that the left side is more about the science of it all.”

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Another reason many people associate not wearing a mask with Republicans is that President Donald Trump often goes out in public without wearing one and has even mocked others — including reporters and Joe Biden — for wearing them.

On Oct. 11, Ben Nachowitz, a senior at Talawanda High School who works at the Walmart in Oxford, made a post in the Oxford Talk Facebook page imploring his fellow Oxford residents to wear masks after seeing several without them at his work.

“If you won’t [wear a mask] for yourself, do it for us. The Walmart employees who work their asses off every single day for you,” the post reads. “Do it for me, who had to watch his grandfather mutter his last words through a ventilator over Zoom.”

The post received more than 600 likes and nearly 100 comments, nearly all of them supportive of Nachowitz’s message. Nachowitz said a few negative comments — including one that featured a string of laughing emojis and one that said COVID was a hoax — were deleted by Oxford Talk moderators.

Nachowitz, who moved to Oxford from New York about eight years ago, said he believes most Oxford residents who refuse to wear masks do so because of their support of Trump.

“The people who are anti-mask are very right-wing and very set in their ways,” Nachowitz said. “They’re in this circle of like-minded people, and they basically believe anything Trump says. So if he says ‘you don’t need to wear a mask,’ then they will not wear a mask.”

Finn, on the other hand, said that DeWine’s endorsement of mask-wearing aligns closely with Trump’s own recommendations, and that Trump has never been against wearing them. According to the New York Times, though, Trump has downplayed the importance of wearing masks on multiple occasions.

First-year integrated mathematics education major Aaron Chavez said he disagrees with the politicization of mask-wearing on both sides because it promotes discord that isn’t ideal during a global pandemic.

“It comes down to people’s own liberties and their own thoughts, and that’s fine,” Chavez said. “But also, this is a global concern, and we all need to be in this together.”

Finn agreed that taking precautions against the spread of COVID is not a political action, but a necessary thing to keep yourself and others healthy.

“It’s not a political statement at all — it’s just about doing your part to keep your neighbors healthy,” Finn said. “Unless you wear a Trump 2020 mask like I do, then I guess it’s more of a political statement.”