INDIANAPOLIS — As more communities and businesses adopt mandatory mask orders, supporters of an “anti-mask” movement are looking to make a statement. They are wearing masks that cover their nose and mouth but provide no ability to slow the spread of disease.
"I wore a mask that is designed for protecting your face in a paintball battle. You can easily breathe through it. I walked all around the store, talked to employees, and other shoppers, and every one of them could see my mouth," said a Florida man who posted a video showing him wearing a mesh mask to a Tampa Walmart. "It was almost like not wearing a mask at all. Nobody cared. That's because it's not about safety. It's all about compliance."
Other social media posts show anti-mask advocates wearing mesh masks intended to comply with the letter – but not the spirit – of municipal and corporate rules mandating face coverings.
And masks made of mesh, crochet (yarn) or lace are now popular items being offered by internet retailers. Most include warnings stating the items “are NOT intended for protection or COVID use.” But protection is not what anti-mask protesters are looking for.
“Make your own Anti Mask!” said the seller of a pattern to create your own anti-mask. The description of the product states: “Stylish, breathable and don't protect you from a darn thing! Masks required? No problem! Breath free while making a statement.”
“NO law requires a specific type or particulate rating of mask,” said one protestor, posting a photo of a woman wearing a mesh face covering. “This is about compliance, not safety.”
The public health officials and doctors recently interviewed by 13News disagree.
“Masks absolutely work. They're not perfect. They're not the only measure you need to take to keep this virus under control but they're very effective and they're very simple,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, who serves as the infection prevention medical director at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.
“The most important thing they do is if you're coughing, sneezing, singing, they contain all of those little droplets of saliva or mucus that come out of your nose and mouth, and keep them right there from spreading to other people,” Belcher added.
Earlier this month, 13 Investigates and the IU Health Pathology Lab tested different kinds of masks. The test showed even very inexpensive masks are highly effective in preventing the spread of germs linked to viruses.
The science has prompted many cities and states to impose orders requiring face coverings in public places. (Indianapolis currently has a public order in effect but the state of Indiana does not.) Companies like Costco have been requiring customers to wear masks for months, and more businesses recently announced they will require face coverings, too. Walmart and Kroger, two of the largest retail/grocery corporations in the nation, will begin implementing mask requirements for customers next week.
The growing trend seems to be causing growing frustration among anti-mask advocates, who have been voicing their dissent at municipal buildings, statehouses and in online forums – and by wearing mesh masks intended to offer protest rather than COVID-19 protection.
Belcher says he does not mind people protesting over masks, as long as those protests are not putting others in danger.
“I need your help with this to keep from spreading the infection so the hospitals don’t get overrun,” he told 13News. “If you're going to go to the trouble of wearing a mask, please wear one that's going to do something for other people. I don't care if you write 'NO' on it. I don't care if you have a t-shirt that says ‘I don't want to wear this mask,’ but I need you to wear the mask. It's an important thing for our health.”
Trend data released Thursday afternoon by the Regenstrief Institute shows positive COVID-19 cases, emergency room visits and deaths related to the coronavirus are all increasing in Indiana. That's why health officials continue to emphasize the importance of wearing a mask.