The question isn’t whether masks work to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
They do, to a certain extent, although that extent is still being debated by scientists. When it comes to wearing them in public, it’s worth noting that at least one study has shown you’re much more likely to contract COVID-19 at home than in a grocery store, but this is neither here nor there.
The question, instead, is to what extent entities with a certain degree of power — whether it be governmental, institutional or economic — should be able to tell you whether you either should or have to wear a mask.
The Business Roundtable is one of the most powerful corporate associations there is. Its board of directors includes names such as Apple’s Tim Cook, Walmart’s Doug McMillon and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon. While he’s not on the board, United Press International reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is also among the Roundtable’s numbers.
In fact, as the group’s website explains, the only members allowed in the Business Roundtable are CEOs.
“These CEO members lead companies with more than 15 million employees and more than $7 trillion in annual revenues. As major employers in every state, Business Roundtable CEOs take seriously the responsibility of creating quality jobs with good wages. These leaders join with communities, workers and policymakers to build a better future for the nation and its people,” the site reads.
Of course, this means they don’t necessarily just join with policymakers, they also have the power to heavily influence policy, whether through government or simply through the share of the market they control. That’s why their statement on masks released Friday is a bit more newsworthy than the coverage it received.
“Rising infection rates around the country are putting public health and our economy at grave risk,” the statement read.
“Failure to bring the pandemic under control will have devastating, long-term consequences for millions of Americans.
“One of the most effective things we can all do to protect public health and the economy is to wear face coverings in public settings, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” it continued.
“Business Roundtable applauds the many companies that are protecting their employees and customers by mandating the use of face coverings indoors consistent with CDC guidelines. We encourage every company to adopt this practice and hope that all Americans will adopt the use of face coverings to protect their families, friends, neighbors, and our economy.”
As UPI reported, the statement — which “called for the mandatory use of face coverings in businesses to help stop the spread of coronavirus,” didn’t explicitly request the federal government to order such a move; the statement merely called on businesses to take the initiative. It came exceptionally close to getting the federal government involved, however.
“Business Roundtable began calling for consistent federal and state guidelines on safety measures, including face coverings, in April, and recently co-signed a letter with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other leading business associations to support a national mask standard implemented locally,” the group said, also noting it has “launched a series of COVID-19 safety PSA ads as part of a public education campaign to further encourage the use of face coverings to address the upward trend of COVID-19 cases in several states.”
Yes, well, if PSAs were particularly effective, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have obviated the need to have any sort of debate about marijuana legalization, having curbed America’s appetite for the devil weed thanks to that infamous “I’m not a chicken, you’re a turkey” anti-drug ad every 30-something can recite by heart. Of greater import, however, is the fact the group pointed out it “began calling for consistent federal and state guidelines on safety measures, including face coverings, in April.”
Now, as it makes clear, this isn’t a law! The group just … supported a set of guidelines about masks that it would like to see adopted locally as laws.
The letter that the Roundtable co-signed with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an illuminating one, as well, inasmuch as it makes clear they want a single mask policy for the entire United States, if possible.
“Current local and state mandatory mask requirements vary widely in scope, application, and enforcement. For example, there is variation on whether the mandate applies to all businesses, to just employees or also customers, and exemptions for age or other health conditions (e.g. asthma),” reads the letter, dated July 2.
“In addition, in some locations the mandate is imposed on businesses for them to enforce. Not only has this led to public confusion and lower levels of consumer confidence, but it has also contributed to confrontations between customers and employees and litigation from both directions — enforcing mask requirements and failing to enforce mask requirements.”
The Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce say they want three things: “guidance on the appropriate metrics … for imposing location-based mandatory mask requirements in all public spaces,” the development of mask policies which “do not impose the enforcement burden on organizations without such expertise, such as businesses and non-profits,” and for it to be made “clear that businesses and non-profits will not be held liable for refusing entry or services to an individual who is not complying with face covering requirements.”
“To be clear, the decision to impose face covering requirements should remain at the state or local level but be informed by clear and consistent guidance based on data. We believe that a national mask standard, implemented locally, offers the surest way to protect public health and promote economic recovery,” the letter reads.
The tone of the letter feels strangely contradictory, the spirit of which can be glimpsed in those last two sentences.
Mask policies should be decided at the state and local level and this proposed guidance would be merely that — guidance. But, you know, a national policy that states and localities simply decide to adopt on their own without any prodding whatsoever (nudge nudge, wink wink) would probably be for the best.
I have no doubt the members of the Business Roundtable are intelligent enough to realize this is an either-or decision. Either states and localities are able to determine their own mask policies as best fits their local needs, or we have a national mask policy that states and localities are pressured into adopting even though it may not fit their specific needs.
This isn’t simply the Business Roundtable weighing in. It’s the Business Roundtable throwing its weight around.
This has nothing to do with the efficacy of masks and everything to do with whether we’re going to allow corporate behemoths to set national policy on the matter.
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