FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In the increasingly nasty debate about coronavirus masks, Palm Beach County became the nation’s focus for the all the wrong reasons.
Then she spoke the words that would catch social media by storm: “I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear … things gotta breathe.”
The woman’s frank admission made headlines everywhere from CNN to The Daily Beast, but it did not sway commissioners, who unanimously made their county the last in South Florida to pass a mask order.
At the same time, the face-off thrust Palm Beach County back into the nation’s consciousness, a microcosm of America’s debate over whether masks prevent disease or infringe on freedom.
Little about the pandemic has generated as much consternation as masks, even given almost universal medical evidence that masks help stop the virus from spreading. The popularity of social media and the country’s giant political divide have created an environment where mask agitation thrives.
Opponents say any benefit from masks — which they dispute in any case — is not worth the cost of their individual rights. No one should be told what they must wear, particularly by the government, they say.
Mask supporters are just as adamant about their view: We all need to don face coverings now or the pandemic will kill people needlessly.
The conflict seems particularly pitched in Palm Beach County, where four people sued county commissioners this week over the mask order. They contend that masks are “harmful medical devices” with “well-known risks and potential for serious injury and death.”
Louis Leo IV, an attorney from Pompano Beach, represents those residents and spoke at the county commission meeting June 23.
“If we’re going to educate people, let’s learn about pseudoscience,” he said. “It’s coming largely from unethical organizations who profit from sickness and eliminating, not just civil rights, but human rights under the guise of disease prevention. You know what you’re doing is wrong.”
Those comments aside, most experts say masks are an essential step to combat the coronavirus.