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Memo to the president: A national mask mandate would help you

This first appeared in The Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer.

To: President Donald Trump

From: The mask-wearers

Mr. President, we need to talk about some numbers.

They’re bad. Like, really bad. In Arizona. In Texas and Florida. Pretty much everywhere. Each day brings new and jarring data, including about young people and, especially, about the elderly. You should be worried.

About the coronavirus? No, we know you’re not talking very much about that these days. We’re talking about your poll numbers. You’re in trouble. And we think we have a bold solution: Tell Americans they need to wear a mask.

It’s a game changer, a way to turn your worst issue around. Well, maybe your third-worst, right now behind the bounty thing and the racism thing. But let’s face it, if a vaccine doesn’t give you something to brag on this fall, this might be the only hope you have with COVID come November.
A bonus: This also could help the country. An economic team at Goldman Sachs said last week that a federal mask mandate not only would substantially cut the daily growth rate of new COVID-19 cases, but it would also be much better for the economy than trying to slow the virus with new lockdowns. Someone might call that “winning.”

We know. Advocating for a mask would be kind of a pivot for you. You’re the anti-mask president, and Republicans are the anti-mask party. You’ve persuaded your followers that leaving your nose and mouth uncovered is about freedom. It’s a statement, the bare badge of courage.

But Republican leaders are beginning to leave you on this. Senators, including Arizona’s Martha McSally and Florida’s Marco Rubio, are wearing masks and encouraging others to do so. On the Senate floor last week, Mitch McConnell went even further. “We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people,” he said.

So the timing is perfect. Tell Americans they need to wear a face-covering to slow the spread of COVID-19. If the numbers improve, you can take credit for what everyone else started, like you did with Obama and the economy. If the numbers don’t improve, then you were right about masks all along. Genius!

Yes, we understand that a mask mandate is impossible to enforce. But mask mandates aren’t really about punishment or getting 100 percent compliance. They’re about modifying behavior by signaling how serious COVID has become. That’s already working in some U.S. states, including North Carolina, where there’s been a visible (if anecdotal) increase in mask wearing since Gov. Roy Cooper mandated them last month.

Mask mandates are also about conformity. Most people don’t like being outliers, which is why if you’d worn a mask months ago, your supporters largely would have followed and the country would probably be in a very different place today with the virus. But you can still do it now. Sure, some liberals might criticize you for being inconsistent. But your supporters have shown an amazing capacity to forget the things you’ve said and done. We think they’ll stick with you here.

So what do you say? A mask mandate. Or even just a rallying cry for facial coverings. You could say it’s about declaring our independence from COVID-19. You could put a mask on, too, and take one of those strolls to Lafayette Square near the White House. Do a couple laps, show how vibrant you are even in a mask, unlike “Wheezy Joe.”

Think of the possibilities. It certainly wouldn’t hurt your poll numbers. It might truly help the country confront the health crisis we’re in.

In other words, it’s a win-win.

And we know which win you care most about.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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