SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — With COVID-19 cases surging in about half the country, there are a growing number of cities and states now requiring that people wear masks when they are out in public.
Even as Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday afternoon that Phase II will continue for at least another 28 days after Friday’s deadline, he declined to make wearing a mask in public mandatory in his state.
The developments come with a growing divide in this country about wearing those masks. That’s why we headed out to a free COVID-19 testing site to learn more.
And it wasn’t difficult to spot car after car lined up Monday morning right outside Mount Canaan Baptist Church in Shreveport.
For some the people who were getting tested, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“Because I’m supposed to have surgery. And I just wanted to make sure that I had, you know, everything’s okay,” Mary Friday said.
At that testing site, wearing a face mask was mandatory. But venture elsewhere in the city and you quickly spot people not wearing masks.
Caddo Commissioner Steven Jackson, who was volunteering for the day at the Mount Canaan testing site, explained why some people — particularly senior citizens and African-Americans — wear masks more than others do. “I think the closer it hits to home, the more serious you take it.
“And that’s why I tell people, you know, it’s not just about you,” Jackson continued. “And so, if you know somebody who has been sick, you tend to take this thing more seriously. So we see more seniors sheltering in place still.”
Ernest McCowan, who was in the drive-thru to get tested for COVID-19, suggested that when it comes to younger people not wearing masks, it’s the same old trope that they feel invincible at their age.
“They don’t think that they can catch it. A lot of people think that because they are young they won’t catch it. But, I mean, until they have a vaccine for it, you need to wear a mask.”
German researchers recently announced that wearing a mask can reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus by 40 percent.
Yet here in the U.S., some people increasingly have framed the question of whether to wear a mask in terms of being a Democrat or a Republican.
Jackson called that trend unfortunate.
"We shouldn't politicize public health. Public health should be one of those things where we all should take serious, whether we are Republican, Democrat, black or white, rich or poor because this virus doesn't discriminate between either of those."
And Jackson noted that not wearing a mask also is a symptom of pandemic fatigue.
“What I tend to see is a lot of people are dropping their guard. They’re not wearing a mask. They may not be taking their social distancing aspect serious,” he said.
“However, what I want to encourage people to understand is the virus has not gone anywhere.”
Even before the governor announced the delay in starting Phase III, we asked Jackson whether he thinks we’re ready for the that phase.
"In my honest assessment, no. I really didn't think we were ready for Phase II. But I think we have to kind of go forward and see how we embrace it."
McCowan also explained that moving to Phase III requires more members of the public to understand why wearing a mask helps so many others who have compromised immune systems.
"We have elderly family members and I wear my mask for me. But I wear it for them also because I don't want them to get sick because of my stupidity or somebody else's stupidity."
Community activist Alyssa Fyfe also shared her take on why we’re seeing certain groups wear face masks in large numbers while others do not.
“Such as the elderly community. They are way more likely to be at risk. So it’s going to be more of a priority for them,” she opined. “Whereas for people from 18 to 22ish, especially people that are going out and actively protesting, might just not slip their mind for that one moment.”
Louisiana now ranks seventh out of 23 states experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
And according to figures provided in the governor’s statement, Louisiana has surpassed 3,000 deaths and 50,000 positive tests since the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was reported March 9.