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Should Libertarians Support Mask Mandates?

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series The Pandemic Bites

In short, not from the state. Masks are a tricky topic. Unlike lockdowns (which are clearly monstrous), there is a decent body of evidence that masks can help inhibit spread of respiratory diseases when used well, but the benefits are limited and disputable. Even the positive evidence, though, does not justify governments to impose mask mandates across the board. In the USA, at least, this would be unconstitutional coming from the federal government, frequently unconstitutional from state governments, and tremendously problematic at best from local governments. Recommendations based on evidence, such as the CDC, can be made but clearly these are not backed by force of law.

The primary way masks help are (1) when you’re actually sick and, thus, the mask limits your own spread, and (2) when you’re in a healthcare situation such as a hospital. Universal mask use, especially when outside or when sickness is clearly not present, is not particularly useful.

So, besides government overreach in authority by issuing universal mask mandates, it’s also rather unclear that such mandates really make a public health difference (even if masks have good uses at times). Moreover, the evidence against mask mandates for children in particular is growing, and the trade-offs when you try to force them on children are just not good. It’s far better to evaluate risks for children case by case rather than push mandates that make it far more difficult for everyone all at once.

Nonetheless, we can and should respect that individuals and businesses have the capacity to evaluate the risks around them and make decisions for themselves. We don’t need to get belligerent about this, but rather be respectful and tolerant of differences, and adapt. If a business or a church want to adjust their practices or services and require a mask, let’s respect that. We can all be adults together, and if we disagree we can convince each other with adult conversations. But let us not use the strong arm of the state to force each other into abject submission, that’s the road to chaos. In the end, the most important things are taking care of our own personal health and distancing ourselves from people when we know we’re sick. Masks have some uses, but they are no panacea.

Here are a few additional resources to consider if you want to learn more. My company did a webinar with Dr. Chad Roy at Tulane University and you can learn a lot about masks (and vaccines) from it. Here’s a clip just from the masks discussion. Also, my friend Greg put together a very interesting list of resources that rebut the universal masking narrative, and these are useful to consider carefully.

A final word… Mandates unavoidably cause resistance from people, especially when presented in a patronizing and condescending way such as how many state and local governments did. A major problem with the CDC throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but especially in the early months, was the unclear and inconsistent communication about masks, rather than the recommendations themselves. Had they simply been honest and upfront about what they knew and what they did not know about SARS-CoV-2, and about why their recommendations were being made in that manner, then I believe things would have turned out better on many fronts.

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