Physicians decry North Carolina's proposed ban on public masking

Physicians are speaking out against a proposed ban on public masking in North Carolina, introduced by the state's Republican-controlled legislature, NC Health News reported May 20. 

House Bill 237 would rescind certain public health exemptions that allowed people to wear face masks during the pandemic. The state Senate passed the bill May 15 in a 30-15 vote. The legislation now awaits consideration from the House. If passed, North Carolina would revert back to state law first implemented in 1953, in part to prevent Ku Klux Klan members from wearing face coverings to conceal their identity. 

The bill comes amid protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict at college campuses across the state. Footage from the protests shows many participants wearing sunglasses and face masks, according to the report.  

Physicians have opposed the proposed ban, saying it will adversely affect people who are immunocompromised.

"As a physician I am deeply concerned about North Carolina’s potential total ban on mask-wearing," former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, said in a May 16 post on X. "It’s disturbing to think immunocompromised and cancer patients could be deemed criminals for following medical advice aimed at safeguarding their health." 

David Wohl, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Chapel Hill-based UNC Health, said he will still inform patients about the benefits of masking if public mask-wearing is banned.

"This is not going to change my conversations around what is rational," Dr. Wohl told NC Health News. "My recommendations need to be grounded in science. … If anything, the last four years have really concreted the science around masks."

State Republicans have defended the proposed ban, noting the original law did not pose an issue prior to the pandemic. 

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