CADILLAC — When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer implemented a measure several weeks ago requiring Michiganders to wear masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some chose to follow the order and others have disregarded it.
Like many things in life, the decision whether or not to wear a mask is complicated, although according to some statewide and local surveys, most people are abiding by the order.
A statewide poll released by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce found that of the 600 people randomly selected to participate, 81% reported regularly wearing a mask when they go out, with 11% reporting they did not wear masks.
In an unscientific survey conducted by the Cadillac News on Facebook and Twitter, out of 83 respondents, 71.1% reported wearing masks in public.
The majority of respondents reported that their opinion about wearing masks has not changed since the coronavirus was first discovered in Michigan but 14 respondents reported that it has changed, with about half saying their minds were changed in the direction of not wearing them (some responses were too vague to determine in which direction respondents changed their minds).
Respondents cited several reasons they changed their minds about wearing masks, including that they were worried about long-term health ramifications of wearing a mask for several hours a day, that homemade masks don't work as well as medical masks, that there is no need to wear one in this area because there have been so few cases, and that wearing a mask creates a false sense of confidence.
Other people had more personal reasons for not wearing masks.
"I do not wear a mask," said Cadillac resident Tammy Letts. "But it is because I am claustrophobic. I have a panic attack. I will be returning to work soon and masks are mandatory. I do not agree with this but love my job and can't wear one. So now starts the progress of getting a shield approved. Things are not always black or white. I fall in the gray. But, even if I could wear one I would choose to not. It should be a choice."
The decision not to wear a mask is one that some local public officials have made.
Wexford County Commissioner Julie Theobald said she doesn't wear a mask because it reminds her of traumatic incidents in her past involving sexual assault.
"The assailant always held his hand tightly over my mouth," Theobald said. "I have tried to wear them and end up hyperventilating and going into a PTSD meltdown."
Manton Mayor Sam Cronkhite said he's chosen not to wear a mask because he sees it as an affront to his personal liberty.
"I don't think it's right for them to mandate this," Cronkhite said. "It's a position of fear. I do think the safety of others is of the utmost importance but so is protecting our liberty. I understand why she (Whitmer) did this but I just don't agree."
According to a study conducted by the online financial advisory firm WalletHub, Michigan has the ninth highest level of restrictions related to coronavirus in the country.
In most categories — notably large gathering protocols, having a "shelter in place" order, reopening of restaurants and bars, and reopening of child care programs — the state has higher-than-average levels of restriction compared to other states.
The Cadillac News survey found that 61.7% approved of the steps Whitmer has taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. About 36% think her actions were too extreme.
While those who've chosen not to wear masks have cited a number of reasons why they came to that decision, the reasoning of those who do wear them often boils down to only two motivations — increasing the safety of themselves and others, and listening to the advice of experts.
"I don't let political views interfere with my decisions about doing what is best for my medical safety," Cadillac resident Patricia Estes said. "I will wear my mask and gloves out in public. I have underlying health issues and will take whatever precautions I need to take in efforts to try and protect myself."
On a recent shopping trip to Family Fare, 77-year-old Dixie Swanson told a Cadillac News reporter her decision to wear a mask came down to one simple desire — to not get sick.
"Because I'm old," Swanson laughed. "It's for my protection."
In the Cadillac News survey, of those who reported their minds being changed in the direction of wearing a mask, the majority indicated that new data and advice from public health professionals was the impetus behind their shift in opinion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that everyone wear at least a cloth mask when they venture out amongst other people, especially in areas where there is potential for high rates of community transmission.
The purpose of wearing cloth masks isn't necessarily to avoid becoming infected; cloth masks are much less effective in this regard than the personal protective equipment worn by those in the medical field. Rather, it is to prevent spreading the virus to others.
"If everyone wears a cloth face covering when out in public, such as going to the grocery store, the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 can be reduced for the community," the CDC states. "Since people can spread the virus before symptoms start, or even if people never have symptoms, wearing a cloth face covering can protect others around you. Face coverings worn by others protect you from getting the virus from people carrying the virus."
The following are some the arguments for and against wearing masks by respondents to the Cadillac News survey. Note that among those who took the survey, 24.4% self-identified as Republican, 25.6% as Democratic, 32.9% as Independent, and 6.1% as Libertarian.
Arguments in favor of wearing masks:
• I wear a mask in public to protect myself and others. It is a small inconvenience compared to catching COVID-19 or, worse, giving it to someone vulnerable.
• In the 1940s, our government asked people to plant victory gardens and sacrifice for the greater good in all kinds of ways. Wearing a mask demonstrates your care for the greater good, for frontline workers, and for the people around you. If you really want to thank a nurse, wear a mask.
• I’m shocked to see how people feel entitled to put everyone around them at risk. If we collectively take care of each other, this virus would be better controlled. Unfortunately this has become a political issue.
• It's the best option that's currently available to slow the spread.
• Even if the results aren't proven, the minor inconvenience of wearing a mask outweighs the risk. There's no downside.
Arguments against the order mandating that everyone wear a mask:
• Just wearing something over your face and calling it a mask then thinking that it will stop the spread is ridiculous.
• It's up to each person to decide what's right for them. Not dictated on what they have to do.
• I feel like I can’t breathe in them. And if you watch most people, they touch their face a lot while wearing a mask. I can manage to not wear a mask and not touch my face.
• Not entirely convinced that wearing mask is controlling the spread.
• I don't think masks are necessary. Just stay at least 6 feet away from people and wash hands.