Recently, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that along with physical distancing, wearing protective masks slows the spread of COVID-19. Canada has made a similar announcement.
Over 50 countries now mandate wearing masks in public.
While primarily a protective measure, the COVID-19 mask has also become a cultural icon. In western nations it has become a marker of social responsibility and good citizenship. It represents the wearer’s compliance with public safety and communal well being through exercising care for one’s self and others.
During the 2003 SARS crisis, “mask culture” was seen as fostering a sense of mutual obligation and civic duty. Similarly in our current pandemic, wearing a protective mask signifies a commitment to the social and collective good of society.
But how does that perception change when a face mask is worn by someone who is Asian? Or a Black man? Why do some jurisdictions outlaw the face veil or niqab worn by some Muslim women while mandating protective masks?
Whiteness and unearned privilege
Through European colonialism whiteness became the standard against which all other bodies are marked, judged and codified. American anti-racism educator Peggy MacIntosh argues that whiteness provides an “invisible knapsack” of unearned privileges that white people can often take for granted.
These are basic things like: going shopping and not be followed or harassed; never being asked to speak for all white people; and not having to educate one’s children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
The concept of white privilege can be related to how COVID-19 mask-wearing is seen differently when worn on racialized bodies.
For more than 100 years, Asians in North America have been represented as diseased foreigners and more recently blamed as “pandemic starters.”
Rather than exemplifying a commitment to the public good, an abundance of pictures of Asian individuals wearing masks may have accelerated the circulation of derogatory stereotypes. Research has shown Canadian press photos related to the 2003 SARS crisis used Asians wearing masks as a dominant image. With COVID 19, the trend of using masked Asian faces as the emblem of the crisis continues the trajectory of these racist depictions.
Instead of representing a good citizen helping to stop the spread of a possible contagion, a protective mask transforms Asian bodies into the source of contagion. Trump’s insistence in referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” dangerously reinforced the racializing of this disease.
Anti-Asian hate crimes including physical and verbal assaults and vandalism have escalated along with the pandemic.
A recent report told a story of a woman in British Columbia who was accosted by two white men who yelled at her and her mother: “Look at you with your masks, you’re what’s wrong with society.”
The risk of such attacks and harassment confronts Asian diasporas with a difficult choice: wear a mask and risk being subjected to violence or do not and bear the risk of contracting the virus.
Mask-wearing while Black
A Black physician in Boston wrote about his internal struggle with wearing a mask in public because of the racist fears it evokes. He said: “I wonder whether someone would call the police on me, a ‘suspicious’ Black man in a face mask. I negotiate with myself whether risking my life is worth a $300 fine.”
He has reason to worry. A Black doctor in Miami wearing a surgical mask was handcuffed outside his home by police.
The killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in the United States are tragic events that reveal the very real dangers Black people face on a daily basis. And yet in early May, heavily armed, white protesters stormed the Michigan State capitol without incident.
A campaign spearheaded by a Black clergy in Illinois in co-operation with local police, called “Tipping the Mask,” asked people to show shopkeepers their faces when entering stores to mitigate against potential racial fears and violence.
A Black pastor recommended that his son put on his mask once he is already in the store for “fear of what others might think when they see a Black man in a mask.”
The concept of “mask tipping” calls upon racialized bodies to reveal themselves as “safe” and in return avoid biases and endangerment.
Islamophobia and government hypocrisy
In Québec, Bill 21, which outlaws religious symbols in public, leaves Muslim women who wear a niqab in breach of the law and denied access to social services, despite government requests for public face coverings due to the pandemic.
France also mandates wearing masks but has not lifted its ban on the niqab. Fatima Khemilat, a researcher in France exposes the irony.
“If you are Muslim and you hide your face for religious reasons, you are liable to a fine and a citizenship course where you will be taught what it is to be a good citizen …. But if you are a non-Muslim citizen in the pandemic, you are encouraged and forced as a ‘good citizen’ to adopt ‘barrier gestures’ to protect the national community.”
Muslim women who wear a niqab are not considered good liberal citizens because their covered faces are deemed culturally irreconcilable with western society. They face being penalized for violating the law while those wearing COVID-19 masks are seen as good citizens upholding the public good.
The COVID-19 mask is a barrier to transmission of the virus while the niqab is a barrier to social inclusion.
Not having to think about how one’s body is read by others when wearing a mask is a privilege of whiteness that eludes racialized groups. White mask privilege includes: not having to bear the racial stigma of being seen as a foreign disease carrier, being safe whether or not you “tip your mask,” having the ability to cover your face in public and not be denied social services.
Rather than serving as a levelling device the cultural politics behind wearing masks exposes the racial fault lines of the pandemic.
How the coronavirus is shaping health care politics in 2020 – CNN
2018 vs. 2020
How they’re campaigning
Challenges for non-expansion states
- The states with the largest share of uninsured also tend to be among those where the highest share of the population suffers from underlying health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity, that put them at elevated risk of serious health consequences if they contract coronavirus, according to a recent Kaiser analysis. And, according to an Urban Institute analysis for me of 2018 census data, African Americans and Hispanics — two groups suffering disproportionately in the outbreak — are far more likely than Whites to be uninsured in those same states. In Texas, for instance, Blacks are about 50% more likely than Whites to lack health insurance, and Hispanics are almost three times as likely. In Florida, Blacks are about 40%, and Hispanics about 75%, more likely than Whites to be uninsured.
- People without health insurance tend to put off seeking care until it is absolutely unavoidable, experts note. That could make them more reluctant to pursue testing for coronavirus at the first indication of symptoms — extending the time they are circulating the disease in the community. Many of the uninsured “won’t go get care because they assume they’re not going to get it,” says Vivian Ho, a health care economist at Rice University and the Baylor College School of Medicine in Texas. “I have no doubt that’s a good portion of why the disease is spreading here.”
- More uninsured receiving coronavirus care increases the financial strain on hospitals, already reeling from the severe decline in revenue for other services as potential patients avoid seeking medical care during the outbreak. The federal government has allocated a substantial $175 billion to support medical providers during the crisis, with about half of that earmarked for hospitals; but as the number of coronavirus patients without health insurance mounts, “that’s going to increase the financial stress,” says Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. “At the rate we’re going, none of this relief is going to make anybody whole.” The administration has promised to reimburse providers for treating the uninsured out of the relief money. On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services said that it’s paid $340 million so far to hospitals that have submitted claims for treating the uninsured. HHS said it’s less than it had expected but that hospitals can continue to submit claims.
- These financial strains could increase the risk that more hospitals will close, especially in states where the decision not to expand Medicaid has already placed smaller and rural hospitals at risk. “The public health crisis, combined with the economic crisis, has put many health care providers, especially in states that have not expanded Medicaid, at greater financial risk,” says Levitt, of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
- With studies suggesting that lingering health problems afflict a significant portion of coronavirus victims who survive the disease, experts worry that many of the uninsured lack the regular source of care required for follow-up treatment.
Virus spread, not politics should guide schools, doctors say – The Associated Press
As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.
They’re urging a more cautious approach, which many local governments and school districts are already pursuing.
But U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doubled down on President Donald Trump’s insistence that kids can safely return to the classroom.
“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” she told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
Still, health experts say there are too many uncertainties and variables for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.
Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions that would make online teaching safest? Do infected children easily spread COVID-19 to each other and to adults?
Regarding the latter, some evidence suggests they don’t, but a big government study aims to find better proof. Results won’t be available before the fall, and some schools are slated to reopen in just a few weeks.
“These are complicated issues. You can’t just charge straight ahead,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday during an online briefing.
Children infected with coronavirus are more likely than adults to have mild illnesses, but their risk for severe disease and death isn’t zero. While a virus-linked inflammatory condition is uncommon, most children who develop it require intensive care, and a few have died. Doctors don’t know which children are at risk.
“The single most important thing we can do to keep our schools safe has nothing to do with what happens in school. It’s how well we control COVID-19 in the community,” Frieden said. “Right now there are places around the country where the virus is spreading explosively and it would be difficult if not impossible to operate schools safely until the virus is under better control.”
Zahrah Wattier teaches high school in Galveston, Texas, where cases and deaths have been spiking. Until the state recently said schools must reopen to in-person classes, her district had been weighing options many others are considering, including full-time online teaching or a hybrid mix.
Wattier’s school has mostly Hispanic and Black students, many from low-income families; almost 70% qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches and many have parents who work in “essential” jobs that increase potential exposure to the virus. Online education was hard for many with limited internet access, and Wattier knows in-person classes can help even the playing field.
But she’s worried.
“My school has over 2,000 students. That’s over 2,000 exposures in a day,” said Wattier, whose parents live with the family and are both high-risk. “It’s a lot to think about. It’s my job. It’s something I choose to do, it’s something I love. Now it comes at a really high risk.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidance the Trump administration has cited to support its demands, says the goal is for all students to be physically present in school. But, it adds, districts must be flexible, consult with health authorities and be ready to pivot as virus activity waxes and wanes.
“It is not that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks this is a done deal because we have put out guidance,” said Dr. Nathaniel Beers, a member of the academy’s school health council. “But what we do know is that we need to have a more realistic dialogue about the implications of virtual learning on the future of children. We have left whole swaths of society behind, whether it’s because they have limited access to a computer, or broadband internet,” or because of other challenges that online education can’t address.
DeVos said local school officials are smart enough to know when conditions are not right.
“There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.”
Following CDC and academy guidelines would mean big changes for most schools. Mask-wearing would be strongly encouraged for adult staff and students except the youngest. Desks would be distanced at least 3 feet apart; the CDC recommends 6 feet. Both suggest limiting adults allowed in schools, including parents, and canceling group activities like choir and assemblies. Staggered arrival and dismissal times, outdoor classes, and keeping kids in the same classroom all day are other options.
President Trump has threatened federal funding cuts for districts that don’t fully reopen.
DeVos defended that stance, saying, “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families.”
“If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called DeVos’ comments “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”
“They’re messing, the president and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” the California Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
While most funding typically comes from state and local sources, experts say schools will need more federal funding, not less, to reopen safely. Masks, extra cleaning supplies or janitors, additional classroom space, and mental health support for students and staff traumatized by the pandemic are among potential costs. And with more parents out of work, more children will qualify for federally funded school lunches.
Lynn Morales, 49, teaches 8th grade English at a high-poverty public school in Bloomington, Minnesota, that is considering several options including in-person classes; a final decision is expected Aug. 1.
Some colleagues are considering not returning to the classroom because their children’s day care centers aren’t reopening. Some say they won’t come back until there’s a vaccine.
“I am concerned and it’s because of the age group,” Morales said. ’’Middle school students … are lovely and I love them, but they touch, they get close, they roughhouse. It is their nature. They’re 13 years old. They are defiant.”
“If masks are required and a kid isn’t wearing a mask, is my job description going to be to chase down this kid and insist they wear a mask? And what if they don’t?”
Dr. Emily Landon, a University of Chicago infectious disease specialist, is helping the university and a campus preK-12 school decide how to reopen safely.
“Things are evolving from, ‘We can’t do it unless it’s perfectly safe’ to more of a harm reduction model, with the caveat that you can always step back” if virus activity flares, Landon said.
Single-occupancy dorms, outdoor classes, socially distanced classrooms and mask-wearing by students and faculty are on tap for the university. Face coverings will be required at the school too. Policies may change depending on virus activity.
She dismisses complaints from some parents who say masks are a loss of personal freedom.
“It’s not harmful for your child,” she said. “If you see wearing masks as a loss of personal freedom, then you have to think the same of pants.”
Dr. Tina Hartert of Vanderbilt University is leading a National Institutes of Health-funded study to determine what role children play in transmitting COVID-19. Almost 2,000 families are enrolled and self-test every two weeks. The idea is to find infected children without symptoms and see how easily disease spreads within families. Results may come by year’s end.
“If we don’t see significant transmission within households, that would be very reassuring,” Hartert said.
She noted that in other countries where schools have reopened, evidence suggests no widespread transmission from children.
In France, public schools reopened briefly before a summer break, with no sign of widespread virus transmission. Masks were only required for upper grades, but students stayed in the same classroom all day. A better test will be when the new school year starts Sept. 1.
In Norway, schools closed in March for several weeks. Nursery schools reopened first, then other grades. Children were put in smaller groups that stay together all day. Masks aren’t required. There have been only a few virus cases, said Dr. Margrethe Greve-Isdahl of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, but she noted virus activity is much lower than in the U.S.
Kati Spaniak, a realtor in Northbrook, Illinois, says her five teenage daughters have struggled to cope with pandemic fears, school closures and deficits of online learning. She strongly supports getting kids back in the classroom, and all her girls will return to some form of that in the fall.
It’s been hard for her high school senior, Kylie Ciesla. Prom, graduation and other senior rituals were canceled, and there were no good-byes. “Just to get ripped away from everything I’ve worked for 12 years, it’s really hard,” Kylie said.
At college, classes will be in person, masks mandated and a COVID-19 test required before she can move into her dorm. Kylie isn’t sure all that is needed.
“I hate that this thing has become so political. I just want the science. I want to know what we need to do to fix it,” she said.
AP reporters John Leicester and Arno Pedram in Paris contributed to this report.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
This story was first published on July 12, 2020. It was updated on July 13, 2020, to correct the name of the member of the American Academy of Pediatrics school health council. He is Dr. Nathaniel Beers, not Dr. Nicholas Beers.
Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE Charity contract discussions
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he was sorry for not recusing himself from cabinet discussions about awarding WE Charity a multi-million dollar contract to administer the summer student grants program.
“I made a mistake in not recusing myself. I am sorry,” Trudeau told reporters.
He said he should never have been part of the cabinet talks, given his family’s close personal ties to the charity.
The apology comes after CBC News and Canadaland reported that his mother, Margaret, and his brother, Alexandre, were paid in excess of $300,000 by WE and its entities for speaking engagements over the last four years.
Trudeau said he knew his mother and brother were employed as public speakers but he didn’t know just how much his family members were paid by WE.
“I deeply regret that I have brought my mother into this situation. It’s unfair to her, and I should have been thoughtful enough to recuse myself from this situation,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau said the public service first recommended WE as the best pick for the contract, given its nationwide reach and its experience connecting students with volunteer opportunities.
Trudeau said he still should have known that his involvement in talks to award the contract would be problematic, given how closely associated his family is with the organization.
“When it came to this organization and this program, the involvement that I had in the past, and that my family has, should have had me remove myself from these discussions and I’m sorry that I didn’t,” Trudeau said.
He said he regrets that his failure to recuse himself from contract discussions has derailed a program that was set to help thousands of young people find work.
“I’m particularly sorry because not only has it created unnecessary controversy and issues, it also means that young people who are facing a difficult time right now, getting summer jobs, contributing to their communities, are going to have to wait a little longer before getting those opportunities to serve, and that’s frustrating,” he said.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau also apologized for not recusing himself from cabinet discussions on the WE contract.
Morneau’s daughter, Grace, works at WE in the travel department. His other daughter, Clare, has spoken at WE Day events.
“I did not recuse myself from the discussions on this topic and, given the fact my daughter works for the organization in an unrelated branch, I now realize I should have in order to avoid any perception of conflict,” Morneau said in a media statement.
My statement on the administration of the Canada Student Service Grant: <a href=”https://t.co/kPbjp8kiaU”>pic.twitter.com/kPbjp8kiaU</a>
He said the government’s intention was to flow money to WE to help students find jobs — and cabinet was just following the recommendations of public servants.
He said he’d recuse himself from any future discussions about WE.
Conservative MP Michael Barrett, the party’s ethics critic, said Trudeau’s apology was an attempt to stop this story from “spinning out of control.”
“We know that Justin Trudeau is only sorry when he gets caught and that’s what the apology was all about today,” he said.
“As the weight of this comes to bear down on him, he is sorry, but that doesn’t mean that the investigations won’t continue and they certainly should.”
Barrett said Trudeau should appear before the House of Commons finance committee to field questions from MPs, and should waive cabinet confidentiality for all documents related to the contract.
The opposition Conservatives are also calling for an emergency meeting of the Commons ethics committee to study the government’s decision to award the contract to the charity.
In a letter to the committee’s clerk, Conservative MPs Barrett, Damien Kurek and Jacques Gourde say the committee should be recalled and an order should be issued demanding that Speakers’ Spotlight — the agency that arranged for the Trudeaus to speak at WE events — produce receipts for the appearances.
The MPs say the committee also could review “the safeguards which are in place to avoid and prevent conflicts of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, granting, contribution and other expenditure policies.”
The federal ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, already has said he will review the government’s decision to award the contract to administer the $912-million program to WE. The Conservatives have said the RCMP should investigate the deal for possible criminality.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he’s tired of hearing apologies from the prime minister on ethical scandals. He said Trudeau hasn’t learned anything from incidents like the SNC-Lavalin scandal or the trip to Aga Khan’s private island.
“There comes a time when we do not trust anymore and when being sorry is not something you believe in anymore,” he said.
“So perhaps there’s something else to be done and the inquiries which have been asked by the Conservatives seem to be a good idea. (Trudeau) should come forward and tell the whole truth.”
WE Charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger offered their own mea culpa in a statement published in a full-page ad in today’s Globe and Mail.
The brothers said the fallout from the botched partnership with the federal government has been “extremely difficult” and they understand why questions have been asked about their financial dealings with members of the Trudeau family.
“The charity’s integrity and purpose has been called into question. It has had direct impacts on our staff, supporters, and beneficiaries. We have made mistakes that we sincerely regret,” the Kielburgers said in the statement.
“It has led us to more closely examine our own internal structures, governance and organization. In the days to come we will have more to say on these matters and about the organization’s future. For now, we wanted to set the record straight, take responsibility for our part, and refocus on the mission that started twenty-five years ago.”
The charity also has faced a backlash from some people — notably former NHL star Theo Fleury and R&B singer Jully Black — who have agreed in the past to speak at WE events for free.
The co-founders said honorariums were provided to certain individuals “who committed to speaking at multiple WE Day cities and many additional events while in the city, requiring significant time commitments.”
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