Antimaskers turn to mesh, crochet and lace to boycott face covering requirements

An antimask protester holds up a sign at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday.

An antimask protester holds up a sign at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. (Jeff Dean/AFP)
An antimask protester holds up a sign at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. (Jeff Dean/AFP)

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spike across the country, many states, including Colorado, Arkansas and Alabama, have implemented new face mask requirements. Many retailers have also added requirements for face coverings. On Monday, Gap announced a mask policy in its stores, effective Aug. 1, and plenty of fellow big retailers, like Walmart, Best Buy, Target and CVS, have recently put mask requirements in place for shoppers.

But despite all these requirements, refusal to wear a mask has become a political sticking point for some. Now antimaskers have resorted to a new tactic: wearing a mask that doesn’t offer any protection. 

People are sharing videos and tweets of themselves flouting face covering guidelines by wearing masks made of thin material, like mesh, crochet and lace.

Face mask recommendations and laws vary between cities, states and stores. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically recommends that people wear a cloth face covering that “completely covers the nose and mouth” and “includes multiple layers of fabric.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken things a step further, giving specific recommendations for what the masks should be made of. According to the WHO, the most effective face masks have the following components:

  • An inner layer that’s made of absorbent material, like cotton

  • A middle layer to act as a filter or barrier: This can be made of nonwoven material, like polypropylene

  • An outer layer made of a nonabsorbent material, like polyester

The WHO also recommends that people avoid masks made of stretchy materials (they don’t serve as great filters), silk and gauze.

While some specify what a mask needs to look like — Colorado says a mask should be made of “multiple layers of fabric” — others, like Walmart, simply require “face coverings.” This has contributed to the rise of these ineffective protest masks — and some are even selling them online.

One American flag-themed crochet mask available on Etsy bills itself as the mask for people who “don’t want to” wear them. Another mesh one on Amazon, which says it’s designed for protection from pellets and paintballs, is receiving rave reviews. A third one, a $22 crystal-encrusted mesh face mask is currently a bestseller on Etsy. Reviewers say they’ve worn the mesh and crochet masks into stores and have not been questioned, which one said is proof that “it’s not about safety, it’s about control.”

Experts disagree — and find the rise in antimasks extremely concerning.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo. “This isn’t about personal liberty. This is about public health and keeping everyone safe, so we can get the pandemic under control to have more freedom and liberty.”

“I’m very disappointed,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “I’m not a person to anger, but I’m angry. These people are putting others at risk and putting themselves at risk. They think they’re being cute, and they’re not.”

Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, says he has trouble understanding why anyone would do this. “I treat patients with it every day, and I am as careful as I can possibly be to not get infected,” he tells Yahoo Life. “People who have been infected months ago still have symptoms. It is not something to treat lightly or think it is not a big deal.”

But Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life that this is “predictable” given the current environment where masks have been politicized and framed as a method of control. “This is a very silly way to try to make a point that’s not worth making,” he says. “If they have a problem with masks, why can’t they wear a face shield? It’s a good option.”

Overall, Schaffner says, “This is just inappropriate. We all have to help protect each other. These people are contributing to the spread of the illness and perhaps the demise of others.”

A big sticking point among antimaskers is that they’re complying with local guidelines and laws by wearing these masks, but Adalja says that’s not necessarily true. “We’re already seeing stores talk about what a mask should be,” he says. “Read the regulations regarding masks for most places: It usually says it has to have some sort of barrier.” A mesh, lace or crochet mask that you can see through doesn’t fit the bill. “If whatever you’re wearing on your face isn’t a barrier, people may refuse you service based on that,” Adalja adds. 

It’s unclear at this point whether this kind of thing would be legally enforceable, but it’s unlikely that the compliance argument for wearing an antimask would hold up in court, Schaffner says. “I don’t think they would stand up,” he says.

Overall, public health experts aren’t happy with this new trend. “I get wearing a proper mask is inconvenient, but it’s a small price to pay,” Russo says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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