Critics skeptical of states' proposals to ban public masking

North Carolina and New York are among states weighing bans on public mask wearing amid heightened tension surrounding protests on the Israel-Hamas conflict. While lawmakers say such measures wouldn't target medical mask wearing, critics are skeptical about the practicality of a health exception, The Washington Post reported June 24.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently said she is considering a measure to ban face masks on the city's subway system. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed legislation to criminalize public mask wearing, which Republican lawmakers are poised to overturn. The bans would target "bad actors" engaging in criminal or threatening behavior by making it illegal to conceal their identity, lawmakers and supporters of mask restrictions say.

Lawmakers say proposals to criminalize public mask wearing include exceptions for immune compromised individuals and others aiming to avoid contracting respiratory viruses, though critics say enforcing such an exception would be impractical.

"I don't understand when there's a political protest exactly how the authorities plan to sort out those who are wearing masks for health purposes versus those who are wearing masks to protect their identity," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the news outlet. "It really sets up a situation where we are likely to see selective enforcement against protesters that authorities don't like."

Physicians, including former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, have opposed the proposed bans, saying they will adversely affect people with immunocompromising conditions.

In the 1940s and 1950s, many states implemented laws against masking, in part to prevent Ku Klux Klan members from shielding their identity. At least 18 states and Washington, D.C., still have such laws on the books, many of which were put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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