With the Thanksgiving holiday, we can expect a spike in COVID-19 cases on top of the spike that is already occurring. Despite pleas from public health officials to stay home, about 50 million people traveled to see friends and family, including more than 1 million who flew on Wednesday. Three weeks from now, just in time for Christmas and New Years, expect a surge in cases and deaths. Also expect anti-maskers to be complaining that mask mandates violate their freedom and that the disease is overblown. 

Ironically, the need for a mask mandate stems from the same people who decry masks smothering their liberty. If  these people had spent half as much time debunking the lies and misinformation coming from the White House and conservative media outlets as they have complaining about Roy Cooper’s mask policy, we probably wouldn’t need the mandate. People who believe the disease is real, contagious, and dangerous wear masks. The mandate is for coronavirus skeptics who refuse to protect their fellow citizens and they’re skeptical because they don’t believe public health officials and scientists.

Conservative media, especially here in North Carolina, has spent far more time raging against the heavy hand of big government trying to prevent the spread of the disease and protecting vulnerable people than they have pushing back against misinformation or presenting their own solutions to controlling the virus. So far, they have been wrong about the whole trajectory of the disease. Back in March, when experts predicted 500,000 people could die within the first two years of the disease, conservatives exploded with criticism, calling the figure exaggerated and hyperbole. Now that the virus has killed 266,000 Americans over the past nine months, they’re arguing that the disease kills mainly old people and people with pre-existing conditions. They still aren’t offering any measures to mitigate the impact of the disease.

Conservatives argue that masks are not proven to reduce the spread of the disease, but that’s just false. Study after study has shown that they work. Last week, the American Institute of Physics released a report that says if 70% of people wore masks, the virus could be contained. Also last week, the Mayo Clinic released a study that shows how masks prevent the spread. In Europe, the Swedish Institute of Science, which awards the Nobel Prize for Physics and Chemistry, says face masks should be worn indoors. 

Conservatives will hang on the recommendations of a handful of scientists who claim there’s no proof masks prevent the spread of coronavirus. These scientists are the ideological descendants of researchers who told us cigarettes don’t cause cancer and climate change isn’t real. They are wrong, of course, and the virus will be more difficult to contain because too many conservatives care more about resisting big government than protecting human lives. 

The next fight will be vaccines. Trumpists who rely on conservative media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart will resist getting vaccinated because either the virus isn’t real or because the cure is more dangerous than the disease. When governments start using regulations to enforce vaccines, conservatives will scream about their rights. The biggest obstacle to containing the spread of the disease is the spread of misinformation from conservative ideologues who believe that government overreach is more dangerous than a virus that is killing people.    

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