Opinion: The dangerous consequences of NC Republicans’ public masking ban

Photo: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

By Maggie Blunk

May 20, 2024

The North Carolina Senate’s recent passage of House Bill 237 is a deeply troubling development for our state. This bill, which would prohibit masks being worn in public for health concerns, is more than just a legislative misstep—it is a direct attack on the health and safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Mask-wearing is critical for immunocompromised populations. The 35,000 people living with HIV in NC, cancer patients, and countless others rely on masks to protect themselves from airborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both highlighted the efficacy of masks in preventing the spread of illness. Yet, HB 237 flagrantly disregards this science, putting lives at risk.

This bill also infringes on the fundamental right to assemble. The history of HIV activism is deeply intertwined with the right to protest and assemble, exemplified by the legacy of ACT UP. ACT UP’s powerful direct action and grassroots organizing was instrumental in advancing research, and eventually a treatment for AIDS.

By imposing penalties on those who wear masks during public gatherings, HB 237 stifles the ability of citizens to protest and express their views safely. In an era where public health and civil liberties should be paramount, this legislation takes us in the opposite direction. The legacy of ACT UP demonstrates how crucial the right to assemble is for people living with HIV and other marginalized communities. Their efforts have shown that grassroots organizing can bring about significant change in public health policies and social justice.

We must ask ourselves: What message are we sending to the people of North Carolina? Are we saying that the lives of anyone who isn’t perfectly healthy are less valuable? Are we willing to ignore scientific evidence and the guidance of leading health organizations for the sake of political posturing? HB 237 answers these questions with a resounding and unfortunate “yes.”

At NCAAN, we believe in the fundamental right of every person to safeguard their health. The passage of HB 237 undermines individual’s freedom, and puts our most vulnerable at greater risk. We must remember that behind every statistic and scientific study, there are real people with real stories whose lives depend on the ability to protect themselves with masks.

We urge the North Carolina House to reconsider this dangerous bill and listen to the voices of those who will be most impacted by it. Public health measures like mask-wearing are not just about individual safety—they are about community protection and solidarity.

Join us in opposing HB 237 and advocating for the health and rights of all North Carolinians. Together, we can ensure that our state remains a place where everyone has the autonomy to protect their health and well-being without fear of criminalization.

Author

  • Maggie Blunk

    Maggie Blunk (she/they) is from Chapel Hill, NC and currently resides in Durham, NC. After graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in Political Science, Maggie was a Park Fellow at UNC School of Media and Journalism where they studied marketing. They are now the Communications Manager at North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

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