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News Analysis: The Politics Of Wearing Masks

Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and County Commissioner Esteban Bovo welcome President Trump as he arrives at Miami International Airport in July.

The issue of wearing masks came up again this week as South Florida cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

During back-to-back news conferences earlier this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis met with local leaders. They stressed the point that it’s our responsibility to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and follow other coronavirus guidelines.

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But the politicians weren’t always adhering to those requirements. On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wasn’t wearing a mask, spoke in the same room as reporters and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was wearing a mask and standing about six feet away from the governor.

“It’s very disingenuous to have everybody around you every single day tested for coronavirus and then have them wear masks and you not wear one and pretend that you’re somehow immune to the virus,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease specialist at Florida International University’s medical school, on WLRN’s Sundial. “We’re in this mess because the leaders have not chosen to lead by example.”

People without symptoms can spread the coronavirus, according to the CDC. And the World Health Organization says the coronavirus could live in the air in respiratory droplets. 

Doctors say masks are important because they protect you and other people. Some studies have found that if everybody wore a mask, then Florida and the rest of the country could squash the virus to a manageable level.

WLRN producer Alexander Gonzalez talked about the politics of mask-wearing with WLRN’s healthcare reporter Verónica Zaragovia.

ALEXANDER GONZALEZ: What can be done to get people to wear their masks?

VERÓNICA ZARAGOVIA: That’s the key question. A while back, Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez said he wanted to make mask-wearing a civilian citation, too, not just criminal.

So like a parking ticket kinda thing?

Right. And after weeks of hearing about this, Miami-Dade commissioners just voted [Thursday] that not wearing a mask can get you up to a $100 fine. People who can't afford that, will be required to do community service. Gimenez is also advising people to speak up when others aren’t wearing a mask or standing too close together. He brought up this number earlier this week — 305-4-POLICE.

That number is mainly for businesses. Not for something like seeing your neighbors hosting a birthday party … and nobody’s wearing a mask, right?

Exactly, they say there’s not much that can be done about reporting what people do in private.

During more public events, though, you’d think elected leaders would want to show that they’re following the same guidelines they’re asking us to follow. Remember that the governor took off his mask when they were in the same room this week. And you probably saw the photo of President Trump when he arrived in Miami-Dade last Friday. He wasn’t wearing a mask either.

It seems like politics still get in the way of enforcing health care policy. Gov. DeSantis alluded to this point during another press conference in Miami this week. 

"We have an opportunity to collaborate and be on the same team," he said, wearing a mask, to a room full of Miami area mayors, who were all wearing a masks, as well. "I know we all have different kind of constituencies. You all have to get elected different ways. But, at this moment, unity of purpose, all being on the same page, I think, is very significant."

Then the following day, he went back to taking his mask off at a press conference in Tallahassee.

So what does being on the same page actually look like, then? Gov. DeSantis still has not issued a statewide mask mandate for the state of Florida.