Residents talk Evanston face mask mandate


Illustration by Emma Ruck

Evanston residents talk about the pros and cons of Evanston’s mask mandate.

Yonjoo Seo, Reporter

Weinberg junior Tony Hao said the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. sent health packages containing 30 masks each to Northwestern’s Chinese international students. But when his mask-wearing friend headed to the Office of International Student and Scholar Services before spring break, he said a driver directed racist remarks toward him.

Since then, more and more people in Evanston started wearing face coverings, making it the norm, Hao said.

“Breathing doesn’t feel that natural or easy with a mask,” he said. “But there is some comfort knowing you have taken measures to protect yourself.”

Evanston’s first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed mid-March and Mayor Steve Hagerty declared a local state of emergency on March 15. Evanston Health and Human Services Director Ikenga Ogbo announced on April 20 that face coverings would be required in Evanston’s essential businesses and on public transportation or ride-hailing vehicles.

As temperatures rise, some Evanston residents and those nearby question the effectiveness and enforceability of face mask mandates.

About one-third of U.S. adults said they did not wear masks all or most of the time inside stores and businesses in the past month, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between June 4 and June 10. Republicans and Republican-leaning individuals were least likely to wear masks, with 53 percent of them indicating they wore masks all or most of the time in stores. This contrasted with the Democrats and Democratic-leaning individuals, 76 percent of whom said they covered their faces all or most of the time.

The differing conclusions reached by politicians have enabled Americans to tout sources that reflect their ideologies, according to SESP Prof. Dan McAdams, author of “The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning.”

McAdams said different messages from various government leaders have confused people looking for health recommendations.

“Even at the top of government, in the same press conference, you’ll get Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and (Vice President Mike) Pence (announcing contrasting reports), which exacerbates the problem.”

Feinberg Prof. Judd Hultquist, a professor of infectious diseases, said mask-wearing is rooted in science.

He said there is a misconception that masks are not effective because they may be worn improperly or encourage people to touch their faces, but ultimately the face coverings do more good than harm.

“The idea behind a face mask is that it limits respiratory droplets which can contain live viruses from spreading between people,” Hultquist said. “Mask-wearing is simply not a political issue, but a health and safety issue.”

Blair Garber, Evanston GOP committeeman, said residents can be wary of the mask mandate because they are cautious of compulsory orders.

“So you have that possibility (of catching the virus) against the certainty of people losing their businesses, losing their livelihoods, losing their life savings, losing their homes, and so on and so on,” Garber said.

Garber added that epidemiologists do not always consider the economic consequences of their recommendations.

Hao said he sees people in downtown Evanston dutifully social distancing and wearing masks, but the South Beach visitors last Wednesday hit the sand brushing shoulders without masks.

“Gosh, there were so many people,” Hao said. “It was kind of a scene you would see in Miami.”

For some, being maskless is more a medical or logistical outcome and less a personal decision. Evanston’s face covering mandate does not require masks for children under 2 years old or for those who experience breathing complications.

For those unable to wear a mask, social distancing outdoors by at least six to 12 feet, depending on the activity, or staying at home may be the only options, Hultquist said.

Evanston resident Elle Kim said her 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter have been at home since their last day of daycare mid-March. Kim said she takes them on walks, but they can no longer go to the grocery store or other public places because although her son is content wearing his Disney character mask, she cannot force her daughter to cover her face.

“She doesn’t understand yet, and wants to be cuddled or held,” Kim said.

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