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Has It Always Been Controversial During a Pandemic to Wear a Mask and Social Distance?

Silas is a safety professional seeking answers to safety related problems after acquired his Masters of Science in Aeronautics and Safety



The United States detected its first coronavirus from 2019 (COVID-19) case of a fatal strain of virus confirmed on February 26, 2020 (Center of Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020). As the virus case numbers increase, officials in state and local government launched social distance requirements and wore a mask while in public. Months later, individuals, organizations, and government requirements contradict one another. Some store owners and elected officials require masks when out in public and inside of commercial retail outlets. Others allow social gatherings at public rallies and venues. A state of confusion exists for many looking for an answer to protect themselves and their family.

This article presents an observation about earlier pandemics and the differences of opinion associated with wearing a mask and social distancing. The same challenges our nation faces today existed decades ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic has cost tens of thousands of lives, and getting citizens to comply with safety requirements is challenging. Without a standardized message, the outcome has been a little uneasy for many. Some may ask, has this always been the case with previous pandemics? The article will provide information about whether previous pandemics align with the problem our nation faces today. Has protection efforts always been controversial that some wear masks and social distance to reduce the virus's spread? A difference of opinion exists while others deem the best practice as unnecessary.

Difference of Opinion

Difference of Opinion

Difference of Opinion From Previous Pandemics

Getting people to comply with preventive measures to address the virus attack is interesting while comparing it to previous pandemics. It may have always been the case that some require a best practice and others instill their constitutional right to differ. Who is right, and what we have learned from the past as others contended with decisions of this nature. History will let us know whether our beginnings associated with earlier pandemics repeat how we handled controls to protect human health.

Pandemic History

Pandemic History


History may have repeat itself amid the turmoil. In 1918, the Spanish Flu symptoms escalated quickly. The pandemic caused a health officer from San Francisco, shot three people that refused to wear a facemask, and two were innocent bystanders (Price, 2020). A Red Cross worker mentioned that people who do not wear a mask resemble a dangerous slacker. Compliance was a political theme as some complained masks were uncomfortable, ineffective, and bad for business (Little, 2020).

Officials caught without wearing a mask in public deemed people should no longer wear the protective device. This mindset led to the Anti-Mask League that fought mask-wearing and pushed for repeal (Canales, 2020). Some fought back, believing the masks were unsanitary, useless, and threatening their constitutional rights (Canales, 2020). Physicians formed the organization and held the first meeting with 2,000 participants. Some were for masks, and others were against the control strategy.

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In Tucson, Arizona, citizens went to court over issuing a $10 fine for not wearing a face mask in public. Law enforcement held their ground, stating they would enforce the mask ordinance to protect human health with fines for noncompliance. Interestingly, a judge suggested that when a mask is in the wash, the person is not exempt from wearing one in public. Therefore, they should stay home during wash days (Price, 2020). During a boxing match, a police photographer developed several congressmen, the mayor, and a San Francisco health officer without wearing a mask. The health officer paid the $5 fine, and the mayor paid a $50.00 fine for noncompliance (Little, 2020).

Social distancing measures imposed during the 1918 pandemic supported the same practice in 2007 and 2020. Many authorities closed schools, banned public gatherings, and closed non-essential businesses. The lessons learned from 1918 presented a mitigation strategy to support public health recovery. Judges suggested many unknowns existed about the flu symptoms and deferred to health officials to generate the best protection options (Price, 2020).


The federal government provides each state latitude to implement a strategy to fight against COVID-19. Mask wearing ordinances and requirements have existed for multiple decades. Today, mask requirements, social distance, and isolation have increased the divide during the pandemic. As the pandemic case numbers increase, protective measures range from one end of the spectrum to another. Organizations across the nation have implemented requirements for employees and customers to wear masks and follow the CDC's social distance requirements.

The CDC recommends facemasks and social distancing as precautions to protect the public. Next, elected officials, organizations, and individuals follow the provisions presented by health officials while others do not. Differences of opinion related to wearing a mask, social distance, and isolation suggest history has repeated itself since the 1918 pandemic.

Final Note

Final Note

Final Note

In 1918, the strategic plan leveled the virus outbreak by using face masks and social distancing. A century later, as the situation expanded and our nation proactively seeks solutions against the spread of COVID-19. Our history provides information about their emphasis on face masks and social distancing that provides benefits. At least we see the divided opinions about public health held today originate from decades ago.


Canales, K. (2020). Photos show how San Francisco had to convince its mask slackers to wear masks after many defied the law while the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic seized the city.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Evidence for limited early spread of COVID-19 Within the United States, January-February 2020.

Little, B. (2020). When mask-wearing rules in the 1918 pandemic faced resistance.

Price, P. (2020). How a fragmented country fights a pandemic.

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