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Two Republican governors asked residents to stop harassing people who choose to wear face coverings in public, saying the decision to do so should be separate from politics.
Two Republican governors in the past week have pleaded with residents to stop mask-shaming people who wear face coverings in public places in an attempt to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"I would really love to see, in North Dakota, that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they are creating a divide—either ideological or political or something—around mask versus no mask," North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Friday at a press conference. "This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line, and I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding."
Burgum’s comments came as the decision to wear—or eschew—a face covering in public continued to morph into a political issue. People protesting stay-at-home orders and business closures have ridiculed others for wearing face coverings, and some local governments have amended emergency orders requiring people to wear masks in public after threats of violence.
Across the country, majorities of people say they are wearing masks in public. But polling has found that Democrats are more likely to wear masks than Republicans, and that Republicans are more likely to wear face coverings if they live in states that are run by Democratic governors. But the issue shouldn’t be an ideological one, said Burgum, who paused several times during his press conference to collect himself after becoming emotional.
“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments,” he said. “They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have Covid, and they’re fighting. So, again, I would just love to see our state, as part of being North Dakota smart, also be North Dakota kind, North Dakota empathetic.”
North Dakota does not currently have statewide requirements to wear a mask.
On Sunday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine agreed with Burgum, saying that wearing face coverings has nothing to do with politics and is simply a public health measure designed to protect other people.
“This is not about whether you’re liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican or Democrat,” DeWine said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s been very clear what the studies have shown: you wear the mask not to protect yourself so much as to protect others.”
At the end of April, DeWine issued an executive order requiring shoppers in Ohio to wear masks in stores, but reversed it a day later after residents complained, saying it was “a bridge too far.”
“People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do,” he said on ABC’s This Week, adding that he still recommends that people wear masks in public.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using cloth face coverings in public places where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing, including grocery stores. But President Donald Trump has repeatedly eschewed that advice, making numerous public appearances without a mask, including last Thursday at a Ford Motor plant in Michigan. Both the company and the state have policies that require facial coverings, but the president said it wasn’t necessary to wear one (although he did acknowledge wearing a mask for part of his visit, when not in front of news cameras).
“Everybody’s been tested and I’ve been tested,” he said.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.