EDITORIAL: Mandating masks not for S.C.
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EDITORIAL: Mandating masks not for S.C.

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Three months ago had people shown up at a store in the masks they are wearing today, the police likely would have been called. Now, roughly half to two-thirds of the people you see in a supermarket are masked amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But why not all?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended since April 3 that healthy Americans wear masks, saying that doing so can "protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms." Models have shown that if 80% of people wear them, coronavirus cases could plummet.

Well don’t tell that to South Carolinians. We seemingly are a state that likes going maskless.

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The state and its businesses do not order the wearing of masks. Gov. Henry McMaster and top officials do not wear them at news conferences. And as a GOP “red state,” it appears South Carolina is in line with the growing political twist to the mask story.

Per reporting by postandcourier.com of Charleston, a recent Gallup poll found Democrats and left-leaning moderates are much more likely to report wearing a mask in public, though more than half of Republicans and right-leaning independents have worn a mask in public.

White males may be accounting for the many you see without masks, at least according to research from a “blue state” bastion in California State University Fullerton.

In a preliminary study released this past week, researchers suggest men may not only be less likely to wear masks but some actually view them as a sign of weakness. The research, which is currently being peer-reviewed, may shed light on why public-facing men -- especially white men -- seem proud to appear in public without them.

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The study, a collaborative effort between researchers at Middlesex University London and the Mathematical Science Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif., involved an online experiment with more than 2,459 individuals who were given various messages intended to promote wearing a face mask and then asked questions about their intentions. The researchers concluded that “men less than women intend to wear a face-covering,” and that the two driving forces are that men are less likely to “believe that they will be seriously affected by the coronavirus” and that they consider masks “shameful, not cool [and] a sign of weakness.”

Matt Englar-Carlson, the author of multiple books on masculinity as well as the director of the Center for Boys and Men at California State University at Fullerton, says masks are just the latest iteration of a longstanding issue.

“Decades of research on men’s health has shown disparities between men and women in health behaviors,” Englar-Carlson says. “These disparities exist around preventative health measures such as self-exams, helmet use for cycles, using sunscreen, seat belt use, preventative health care and seeking of health care services, but also in taking life-threatening risks. Men tend to engage in more risk-taking behavior, and not wearing a mask or downplaying the risk of COVID-19 is a considerable health risk.”

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Bottom line: Few things have proven more contentious amid the coronavirus pandemic than masks. The protective covering has been debated and scrutinized through the lens of politics, religion, governance and, yes, masculinity. Men as well as women should be wearing masks at least in certain settings. But mandating the masks is not something that South Carolinians – men and women -- should be forced to accept.

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