Opinion: It’s time for a mask law

Wearing a face mask is just not that difficult, folks.

Yes, we were knowledge-starved when the COVID-19 crisis first hit, but now we have more clues about how the gnarly little blighter works, information that we know saves lives: Face masks and social distancing vastly reduce infection risk. And with a safe, effective vaccine still many months away, it’s crazy that there are still plenty of people in Colorado who simply won’t. Won’t protect themselves or their families, won’t help protect workers who are back on the job, won’t do their part to help reopen our economy — and keep it open.

There are also clues that explain why some people refuse to wear masks:

1) Americans continue to get a schizophrenic stew of COVID-19 messaging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House, and the sane-but-beleaguered Dr. Anthony Fauci — who said last week that cases “could go up to 100,000 a day” if people refuse to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.

2) The psych view: That “humans ... have a strong inherent, underlying survival instinct that gets hyper-stimulated under sudden threat of an unknown enemy” which leads to “a strong and powerful set of emotions that completely override and erase the usual rational cool thinking.” — David B. Abrams of New York University’s School of Global Public Health on HuffPost.

And... 3) In early April pollster Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs said “Once [President Trump] very clearly did not wear a mask in public, that transmitted a signal that if you’re a good supporter of the president you don’t wear a mask.”

[pullquote-1] Whatever the reason, science is a thing. And not wearing a mask can kill people. That’s why governors in nearby Kansas, New Mexico and Texas have instituted statewide face mask laws. We’re asking Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis to do the same.

Regardless of Coloradans’ mask-wearing proclivities, everyone wants to see life return to some version of “normal” — to be able to sit with friends in a bar or restaurant and to stop the close-open-close business cycle that comes with COVID-19 surges. But that won’t happen until the state sees a sustained drop in coronavirus cases.

Gov. Jared Polis is flooding social media with pro-mask messaging, including a vanity Colorado license plate stamped with “WEARAMASK,” and another Facebook post: “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service” — “As a reminder, businesses in Colorado are allowed to turn people away for not wearing a mask.”

But why put the burden for protecting public health on already-struggling businesses, forcing them to wrangle with no-maskers all day just to keep their workers safe? Businesses across the country are having to fight the good fight all alone. (See: “No mask, no ride. Uber.” and from Phoenix vintage clothing retailer Antique Sugar: “If you choose not to wear a mask, we respectfully ask that you postpone your visit. We will be happy to debate the efficacy of masks with you when this is all over and you come in to sell your dead grandmother’s clothes.”)

Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell said, “The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus. A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities.” And fresh research from financial giant Goldman Sachs suggests that instituting a national mask mandate would prevent the 5 percent GDP loss — $1 trillion — that would come from additional lockdown orders.

One thing everybody can agree on is that a nationwide mask mandate isn’t coming from the Trump White House. So far, the coronavirus war has been waged by 50 individual states, and all 50 need to make mask-wearing mandatory. So we’re asking Gov. Polis to issue a mask mandate so we can save ourselves, and so Colorado can start shouldering its share of the nation’s burden.

Editorial board: Regan Foster, Bryan Grossman, Mary Jo Meade, Helen Robinson, Amy Gillentine Sweet