Masks do not limit oxygen. They do not increase the amount of CO2. They don’t “amplify” disease. However, they are effective at preventing transmission of many diseases, including COVID-19. That fact has become even more important with increasing evidence that the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus is primarily through aerosols that can travel distances greater than 3 or 6 feet, and can linger in the air for prolonged periods.

Masks are just about the only effective way of protecting unvaccinated people from spreading COVID-19, and even for those who have been fully vaccinated, they remain recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in multiple situations—including facilities where many people may not be vaccinated. It’s a cheap, painless, easily monitored solution that provides protection for everyone with the very minimum of effort.

Naturally this easy, cheap, and effective solution has been under constant assault from Republicans from the outset of the pandemic because … Honestly, there’s no good way to finish that sentence. Republicans appear to hate masks simply because masks work, and wearing masks represents both an acceptance of scientific facts and a concern for fellow citizens—the two things that the modern Republican Party cannot tolerate.

Just writing that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order to prevent any locality from issuing a mask mandate seems like a flashback. Because it is. Even though Politico reported on Abbott issuing such an order on Tuesday, it’s not the first time. Abbott is just one of several Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida and Doug Ducey of Arizona, who previously issued such orders preventing local authorities from taking even this simple, minimal action to protect citizens, only to have to roll back that order when COVID-19 cases predictably surged. 

This comes in spite of a study conducted last fall showing that counties that had a mask mandate showed a 32% slower rate of COVID-19 spread than counties in the same state without a mask mandate. That study included data from counties in Texas. In all of those counties, there was no law or regulation that prevented anyone from choosing to wear a mask. But without a mandate—and without the regular reminder of seeing most other people wearing a masks—people simply didn’t wear a mask. 

For Abbott to stop any statewide mandate at this point is understandable. Only a few states are still maintaining those mandates following changes to CDC guidelines that stated people who are fully vaccinated can go without masks in most situations. But issuing an order that bars mask mandates by schools and local governments isn’t just following the CDC guidelines. It’s pressuring people to accept an unsafe situation whether they like it or not. 

Right now, 60% of American adults have been vaccinated. That’s 48% of the total population. Though the number vaccinated varies by area, that means that in every store, every restaurant, every shopping center, theater or museum, some portion of the people there are going to be a number of people who are not vaccinated. A mask mandate means those people are protected. Without a mask mandate, continuing to wear a mask both helps remind those who haven’t been vaccinated that they should be wearing a mask. And it cost nothing

If no one is wearing a mask, then the pressure is there for people who should be wearing a mask—those who are unvaccinated, or those who haven’t yet received two shots, or those still waiting out the period for those vaccines to become effective—feel pressured not to wear a mask. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a pressure to conform to what others are doing. If no one else in sight is wearing a mask, it is very, very hard to pull out that fold of cloth and put it over your face.

Wearing a mask when it’s not necessary harms no one. Not wearing a mask when it is necessary harms … well, 33.7 million and counting. 

All of which makes the Republican efforts to politicize a simple, safe, and effective health measure just so damn execrable. That would be a nicer word for “shitty.”

And that word perfectly defines the actions of House Republicans who chose Tuesday to stage a “rebellion” against the rules that require mask use there. Unsurprisingly, the crew of around a dozen loud and undeservedly proud anti-maskers included Marjorie Taylor Greene and some of the other solidly anti-sense members like Thomas Massie, Louie Gohmert, and Lauren Boebert. 

During this deliberate breaking of House rules—done for the sake of getting a minute’s attention on Newsmax and sending out the daily “look how I owned the libs!” fundraising letter—the members of the Obnoxious Caucus were confronted by Rep. Jaimie Raskin, who told them, “Hey, you guys are just like 21st century Freedom Riders. John Lewis would be so proud.” But considering that Republicans long ago sailed beyond the limits of sarcasm, it’s likely they took the remarks seriously.

Republicans might have a better point if they would simply admit they had been vaccinated. Which they won’t. Because, just as with masks, they’ve taken a point of public health and turned it into a literally sick bit of political theater. That’s why 100% of Democrats in both the House and Senate confirm that they have been vaccinated, but only 95 out of 212 House Republicans will admit they got a jab. 

Republicans are both complaining that they have to wear masks after the CDC said that the fully vaccinated could remove their masks in most situations, and they are refusing to admit that they’ve been vaccinated. Just asking Greene about it yesterday drew shouts that the question was “a HIPPA violation!” It’s not.

None of this makes sense. And that is apparently all it takes these days to make it completely Republican.

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