Opposition to face mask rules in the workplace continues ongoing resistance to public health response to the pandemic

By Dennis Archambault

The politicization of public health continues with a recent challenge to employer prerogative for maintaining a safe and healthy working environment and the responsibility of a public health function to require it. Early on in this pandemic, questions about the efficacy of face masks were resolved through evidence and common sense — they stop vapor from entering the atmosphere where a person nearby might inhale it. Masks weren’t meant to be a personal safety measure — at least not initially. It eventually was determined to also protect the wearer. The initial political debate really had to do with the self-interest of the wearer — still articulated in political attitudes about letting individuals decide what’s good for them.

The pandemic was worsened and extended by political disruption that has confused people and eroded trust in public health — not to mention rile up disaffected segments of the population. The discussion of “greater good” seemed to be overshadowed by individual prerogative. This, unfortunately, has been a test of the limits of public health in a democracy. We have learned that the public health system has been underfunded for years. Now we’re learning that basic public health principles, and the assumption of “greater good” is under constant challenge as well.

As we grapple with vaccine hesitancy, which has both political and health literacy components, the long road to true herd immunity will be a considerable social challenge.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs at Authority Health.