Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, visited Alabama last week, and she had good news and bad news.
Birx praised the state’s leadership for its overall response to the virus, and while there is room for disagreement about just how well the state leaders have responded, and whether they did so quickly enough, their performances and the state’s seem to have improved.
That can be seen in the numbers. Since Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order of July 9, new COVID-19 cases have declined. Most importantly, hospitalizations have declined. Hospitalizations have remained down, so far, even with the reopening of schools.
Evidence is mounting that the more people mask up, the closer to normal we can get as we wait for a vaccine and more effective treatments.
Unfortunately, that brings us to Dr. Birx’s bad news.
She observed “a gender gap as she traveled the state in mask wearing, one of the tools to curb the spread of the virus,” The Associated Press reported.
“What we saw is a lot of women wearing masks, but not all the men of Alabama wearing masks. So, if I could just remind the men of Alabama, you get this disease just as much as anyone else,” Birx said.
In the bizarre political polarization that has come to surround the coronavirus and our response to it, one of the most bizarre is the idea that wearing a mask to protect oneself and others is “unmasculine.” (Tell that to the American soldiers who were happy to wear gas masks on the battlefields of France during World War I.)
This has been the case almost since the beginning of the nation’s belated coronavirus response.
“Poll after poll, most recently a Gallup poll from July 13, has found American men are more likely to not wear masks compared to women,” observed the website Vox. “Specifically, the survey found that 34 percent of men compared to 54 percent of women responded they ‘always’ wore a mask when outside their home and that 20 percent of men said they ‘never’ wore a mask outside their home (compared to just 8 percent of women).”
Some place the blame for this with President Donald Trump, who until recently was never seen wearing a mask and who still holds campaign rallies where few of his supporters wear masks, either.
But it is perhaps too easy to get caught up in the partisan blame game. The fact is, men historically do a poor job looking after their own health.
“An important obstacle to improving men’s health is their apparent reluctance to consult a doctor,” notes a 2001 article published on the website of the National Institutes of Health. “U.S. research shows that men with health problems are more likely than women to have had no recent contact with a doctor regardless of income or ethnicity. This reluctance means that men often do not seek help until a disease has progressed.”
Combine a false concern about masculinity with partisanship (men are more likely to be Trump supporters than women) and with the longstanding problem of men not taking their own health seriously enough, and you get what Dr. Birx saw: a lot of men not wearing masks, even as their wives, girlfriends and daughters were.
It’s time for men to man up and mask up.