Mask Bans Proposed in North Carolina and New York Worry Health Experts

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 24, 2024

State legislators in New York and North Carolina are attempting to reinstate dormant laws concerning mask bans amid the rise of pro-Palestine protests. Lawmakers say that masks allow demonstrators to conceal their identity from police, and they don’t think it’s fair.

A similar mask ban was passed last month in South Carolina, and health officials were immediately concerned that creating a ban on a necessary medical device would cause deadly cases of COVID-19 to spike.

Republican Lawmakers Are Opposed To Mask Wearing

The new law has been introduced by state Republicans who want to overturn Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s recent veto of legislation that intended to criminalize mask-wearing in the state.

A stone statue wears a bright blue surgical mask

Source: Anna Yablonskaya/Unsplash

Also, in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) supports the ban of masks on the subway after an incident occurred with pro-Palestine protestors who shouted for all the “zionists” to get off the train. Ohio, Texas, and Florida have all threatened student protestors with arrest for covering their faces during demonstrations.

Archaic Mask Bans Were Caused by Hate Groups

The original mask bans created more than half a century ago were caused by the hooded terror of the Klu Klux Klan in 18 states.

A man with sunglasses wears a white hood in front of a Confederate flag

Source: @MsNewYorkTimes/X

During the rash of hate crimes committed by the white nationalist group, they used their trademarked white masks to conceal their identities. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic and changing social order have caused new fears of hidden faces among crowds of unhappy civilians.

Health Officials Are Immediately Concerned About the Reality of a Mask Ban

Immunocompromised Americans, civil libertarians, and public health officials have criticized mask bans for being a weapon of the state to suppress protestors while putting public health at risk.

A man and a woman who are both wearing glasses and surgical masks stand together for a photo

Source: Julian Wan/Unsplash

Although Covid-19 is not an official global pandemic, many states are still grappling with the lasting effects of the deadly illness. Across the Sun Belt and Florida, high levels of the Coronavirus have been detected in wastewater by the CDC, indicating an early wave during the summer season.

Legislators Say That Medical Cases Would Be Exempt From the Ban

Lawmakers across the aisle say that medically vulnerable people would be exempt from the bask ban. How that would be enforced, though, is an entirely different issue.

A man and a woman who are both wearing backpacks and masks walk down the side walk together next to a harbor

Source: Victor He/Unsplash

Critics say that the exemption would be difficult to decipher, and anyone attempting to avoid contracting a critical respiratory illness may be set up for social ostracization or harassment by police or citizens.

Woman With Breast Cancer Harassed by an Anti-Mask Advocate in Raleigh

Shari Stuart, a woman living with Stage 4 breast cancer and a weakened immune system, was accosted by a man while she attempted to enter an auto service repair center while wearing a surgical mask in Raleigh to get an oil change.

A woman who has lost her hair from chemotherapy looks out the window

Source: Freepik

A man called her a “f**ing liberal” and insisted that masks were now illegal. He then coughed on her and said he hoped the cancer would kill her. The incident occurred the day after the North Carolina House passed the anti-mask bill in June. Officials worry that more incidents like this could take place as masks remain a hot topic.


Mask Bans May Do More Harm Than Good

Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) said in a statement of his veto that the legislation will “remove protections and threatens criminal charges for people who want to protect their health by wearing a mask.”

A man with grey hair stands at a podium in front of an American flag while wearing a black suit

Source: @RoyCooperNC/X

When laws are introduced to police people’s bodies, they can usually wind up harming people who have good reason to, or just want to, continue wearing masks.


Republicans Fire Back With Accusations of Mask Usage for Nefarious Purposes

State Senator Danny Earl Britt, Jr (R) says “Bad actors have been using masks to conceal their identity when they commit crimes and intimidate the innocent.”

A woman with red hair speaks through a bull horn at a protesting event

Source: Clem Onojeguo/Unsplash

Instead of “helping put an end to this threatening behavior, the governor wants to continue encouraging these thugs by giving them more time to hide from the consequences of their actions. I look forward to casting a vote to override this veto and allowing those with actual health concerns to protect themselves and others.” The argument for banning masks lies in the ability of the police to use face recognition software after protests to arrest and detain citizens. If someone is wearing a mask, they’re less likely to be apprehended by police.


Protesting Is an American Right, Despite Dislike by Politicians

For the most part, protests are peaceful and unobtrusive to nearby residents. In the U.S., protestors are more likely to be harmed by the police than to turn violent.

A woman walks through a protest while holding her fingers up in a peace sign

Source: AJ Colores/Unsplash

Despite legislators not liking the current political movement that supports a cease-fire in Palestine, protesting is a protected right under the First Amendment. On the flip side, most Democrats agree that when protestors start looting and breaking windows, they deserve to be stopped by the police with appropriate force.


Large Groups Are Exactly Where People Should Be Masking

The new legislation that attempts to ban mask-wearing for the specific purpose of uncovering bad-faith actors in protests defeats the purpose of mask-wearing in large groups. When someone attends a large gathering while sick, it’s likely that they can spread germs quickly, a mask can easily mitigate the issue.

A group of people walk as a protest whole wearing face masks

Source: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Jay Stanley, a senior American Civil Liberties Union policy analyst, wrote about the issue. He says, “I don’t understand when there’s a political protest exactly how the authorities plan to sort out those who are wearing masks for health purposes versus those who are wearing masks to protect their identity. It really sets up a situation where we are likely to see selective enforcement against protesters that the authorities don’t like.”


New York Leaders Say That Criminals Are Using Masks To Evade the Police

Democratic lawmakers in New York say that the strict mask laws in the tightly packed city hampered police response to crime.

A group of people walk together with a protest while wearing masks

Source: Edward Howell/Unsplash

During a news conference this month, Hochul said that “We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior;” but wants to protect “legitimate” use of masks like avoiding covid or the flu.


Many Large Cities Have Embraced Mask Wearing as a Healthy Habit

Around the nation, people have embraced mask-wearing to stop the spread of communicable diseases and illnesses. Before covid, mask-wearing was a common practice in many Asian countries that honor public health.

A person wears a mask to protect against the pandemic.

Source: Usman Yousaf/Usnplash

In crowded places where airborne pathogens can spread easily, wearing a mask seems like a no-brainer to protect others. Some Democratic lawmakers in New York have attempted to come to a comprise, such as asking customers in stores to momentarily pull their masks down to dissuade shoplifters.