Home Northcarolina Doctors rail against proposed ban against public masking

Doctors rail against proposed ban against public masking

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Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University, known for his clear communication on medical issues, has expressed strong opposition to a legislative proposal to ban masking in public.

“Politicizing what is fundamentally a health issue for a cheap shot at the Israel-Gaza debate is unconscionable,” Wolfe told NC Health News.

Over the past week, Wolfe has received numerous messages from colleagues nationwide and worldwide asking, “Oh my god, what’s going on in North Carolina?”

The concern stems from the Republican-led General Assembly’s quick advancement of House Bill 237. This proposed legislation, which has passed the Senate and awaits consideration by the state House of Representatives, seeks to repeal part of a pandemic-era law that allowed public masking to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The rollback is occurring amid college campus protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict, where many protesters are wearing masks. The ACLU of the District of Columbia advises protesters to wear masks and sunglasses to protect against both COVID-19 and police surveillance.

In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers argue that the bill simply restores the pre-COVID law from 1953, originally intended to prevent Ku Klux Klan members from wearing masks in public.

“This was not a problem pre-COVID,” said Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican from Wilson. “We didn’t see granny getting arrested in Walmart pre-COVID. I don’t think we’re going to see that when we pass this legislation, and those suggesting otherwise are stoking fear.”

The law includes exceptions for traditional holiday costumes, Mardi Gras, theater productions, and certain jobs and trades. An exemption added in 2020 allows mask removal upon law enforcement request during traffic stops or criminal investigations.

Sen. Sydney Batch, a Raleigh Democrat and breast cancer survivor, countered that removing the public health exemption would endanger immunocompromised individuals.

“I don’t think it’s stoking fears for people who are compromised through no fault of their own,” Batch said. “We are removing protection for those who wear masks for health reasons, which this bill would criminalize.”

Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams, whose wife has been battling cancer, also criticized the proposal on X (formerly Twitter). “It’s disturbing to think immunocompromised and cancer patients could be deemed criminals for following medical advice aimed at safeguarding their health,” Adams wrote.

David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at UNC Health, echoed these concerns. “It’s obviously outrageous and not a well-thought-out approach,” Wohl said. “This smacks of political point-making. People cover their faces for all sorts of reasons.”