This post was updated on Monday, June 29, at 6:05 p.m.
Dennis Bonnen, a conservative Republican and Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, is urging “so-called patriots” to wear facial coverings to prevent transmission of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its disease COVID-19.
U.S. public health officials have recommended cloth masks as a simple measure to limit the virus' spread but the issue has escalated into a full-blown culture war with pushback from those who feel any requirement to wear facial coverings is government overreach that infringes on personal liberty and freedom.
“You can’t say that you’re standing up for freedom and liberty while you’re taking an action that restricts yours and everybody else’s freedom and liberty,” Bonnen said.
This freedom-first mindset has been encouraged by state and national leaders including President Trump who espouses anti-mask rhetoric and refuses to wear facial coverings despite selling them on his own campaign website.
Bonnen said being anti-mask contradicts conservative values.
“Those individuals are probably a rather small, minute group. I don’t think they represent a traditional conservative or Republican in Texas or anywhere. And candidly, I think that the fact that people want to characterize the issue as being partisan are, frankly, harming the health and well-being of Texans and the economy.”
According to Bonnen, those protesting masks wouldn’t respond well to a statewide mandate and the decision to require masks should instead be left to cities and counties.
“What will be most successful is people recognizing that quite simply, this is the right thing to do,” Bonnen said about Texans who so far refuse to wear facial coverings amid the pandemic.
Earlier in the pandemic, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hindered local leaders' ability to implement mask rules with any teeth. In light of Texas' recent spike in cases, he will allow cities and counties to fine businesses that don't enforce mask wearing but continues to decline to implement a statewide requirement.
After Gov. Abbott's June 22 press conference to address the state’s surge in cases, Speaker Bonnen issued the following statement:
“I have become increasingly infuriated by so-called advocates who are ditching the mask in the middle of a pandemic as an expression of freedom and liberty, while expressly killing the freedoms and liberties we cherish: The liberty and freedom to go to work. The liberty and freedom to have customers that keep you in business. The liberty and freedom of going to churches, restaurants and concerts with your family and friends. The liberty and freedom of sending your kids off to school. The liberty and freedom of a thriving economy for everyone.
If these so-called patriots persist in flaunting their disregard for others, we’re in for a very long, dark summer with a deadly array of medical and economic consequences — not because of government restrictions, but because these agitators have fueled uncertainty and fear within decent and responsible individuals who understand the health risks and the consequences of our medical resources being strained beyond capacity.
It’s time to mask up. It’s time to employ personal responsibility — a key tenet of ensuring liberty and freedom. It’s time to stand up to the mask naysayers who speak loudly but act irresponsibly as they destroy the liberty and freedom we ALL deserve.”
Texas has become one of the country’s epicenters of coronavirus cases, with new cases and hospitalizations increasing exponentially in recent weeks. The state reported 5,357 new COVID-19 cases and 27 fatalities on Sunday. A total of 148,723 Texans have been diagnosed and 2,393 have died since the pandemic's start.
Why have facial covering become a political issue and how could this crux of the coronavirus culture wars affect overall health outcomes?
Does Speaker Bonnen think there should be a state mandate requiring masks? How have other members of the Texas Republican party reacted to his statement promoting their use?
Guest: Dennis Bonnen, Texas House Speaker and State Representative for District 25 (R-Angleton)
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*This interview was recorded on Monday, June 29.
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