Opinion: Governments Have the Right to Implement Mask Mandates

Governors and health officials across the country have drawn the ire of an emerging anti-mask fringe movement. These fledgling activists feel that the government either has no legal authority to implement such a mandate, or that the government has no moral authority to impose restrictions of these kinds in peoples’ personal lives. 

In fact, at Liberty University, a handful of students signed a petition titled “Demand Liberty University End Tyrannical Mandatory Mask Policy.” The now-deleted petition even inspired one student to stage a one-man protest in front of the Student Health Center with a sign that read: “SAY NO to masks and physical distancing. FREEDOMS and LIBERTIES NO masks. NO distancing.”

Every level of government has the right to implement a mask mandate, from the local governments to even the federal government. Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act grants the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to “prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable disease from foreign countries into the States…” 

Some Liberty students believe that mandates to wear masks infringe on our personal rights.

State constitutions also give their executive branches similar authority, with 34 states and counting issuing their own mask mandates at the time of this article. However, for some, the legal right of the government to require masks is not adequate justification.

The insurgent anti-maskers hold the position that just because a government can, does not mean they should. While this is more of a subjective opinion on the role of government in our daily lives, it is also false. The moral justification for why the government can implement is simple: sick people create more sick people. While you personally may not be fearful of contracting COVID-19, studies show that you’re likely to pass it on to others because of the delay between contracting the virus and showing symptoms.

The R0 (pronounced “r-naught”) is the average number of people one infected person can transmit a disease to. As of a study in February, the World Health Organization estimated the R0 to be somewhere between 1.4 and 2.5. This means that if you contract COVID-19, you’re more than likely to pass it on to at least one other person. 

While you may retain your personal right to not be forced to wear a mask, you infringe on the rights of your neighbors who may not feel the same way you do or are immunocompromised. Therefore, the government has a moral responsibility to its citizens to ensure that everyone is protected, regardless of whether you personally worry about contracting the virus or not. 

It would take an entire issue of the Liberty Champion to dispel all the myths and misinformation around COVID-19. While social distancing proves to be the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus, where social distancing is not always possible, masks serve the same purpose. Masks put up another layer between people to protect them from the respiratory drops experts believe to be the main method of COVID-19 transmission. 

The National Academy of Sciences compiled numerous studies into one report that concluded that as long as compliance was high, mask wearing proved to be extremely effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19. This review of the evidence shows that while governments have both the legal and moral authority to implement mask requirements, we have a duty to follow these requirements.

Emerging from this pandemic is entirely up to us and our adherence to the safety guidelines that have been scientifically proven to be effective.

Austin Gaebe is an Opinion Writer. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinGaebe.

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