In Our Opinion: Disputes unmask extent of misinformation, confusion about face coverings

Together with social distancing, donning a face covering is proven to be one of the most simple, low-tech and effective ways to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

While most of us have gotten used to wearing masks in public, some people are apparently still confused by the most basic facts and rules about them. A couple of controversies over the ubiquitous coverings have recently made news again on Whidbey Island.

A woman acting as her own attorney filed an injunction request asking a judge to force the hospital, the library district and county Public Health to treat her as being exempt from mask mandates due to her medical problem.

The facts of her experience are unclear and state law isn’t exactly transparent. To go into a business, people only need to claim a medical problem that makes wearing a mask unhealthy, no proof required. But government agencies are a different matter. State rules, for example, specifically say all library patrons must wear masks, no exemptions required.

Even the state Department of Health didn’t have a ready answer about who can refuse service to people who won’t wear masks for medical reasons.

In addition, more than 100 people signed a letter asking Oak Harbor Public Schools to stop requiring students to wear masks in class, despite the fact that the state mandates it. It’s understandable that parents would want their kids to be comfortable at school and for classes to return to being as normal as possible. Yet the letter makes reckless claims about children and masks based on supposed “studies” by a naturopath known for talking cancer patients into taking herbal concoctions.

But the letter does make a good point about the lack of clarity from the federal government about masks early in the pandemic. It makes sense that the message might change as the science is solidified, but politics played a part in the early mixed messages.

On a national level, many of the people who still resist masks — and spread misinformation — are the same windbags who tried to argue early in the pandemic that the government was over-reacting about the seriousness of the virus. You don’t hear that nonsense so much lately, now that COVID-19 has raised the nation’s death rate to the highest it’s been since the early 1900s, even more than the Spanish flu.

Hopefully, the mask controversy will become a non-issue later this year as COVID-19 rates decrease as more people become vaccinated and mandates are dropped. That may be delayed, unfortunately, if another round of misinformation campaigns persists and experts fail to reach everyone with a clear message.