“It is my right, given by God and the Constitution, not to wear a mask”: like Davey, a resident of Huntington Beach, many in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, stubbornly refuse to cover their necks. face despite the Covid-19.
Isn’t the father afraid of being infected as the epidemic progresses at full speed in southern California, especially in Orange County?
“It’s a hoax … The more you test people, the more new cases you find,” Davey, 51, calmly told AFP.
If the situation is not as catastrophic there as in other American regions, such as Florida or Texas, Orange County still records nearly 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, nearly ten times more than the target set by the California health authorities.
Davey has barely left a store where customers wearing masks and others with their faces uncovered rub shoulders on the shelves, sometimes very closely.
In California, the wearing of a mask has however been supposed to be compulsory for a month in all enclosed public places, and even outside when physical distancing is not possible.
“There is no sign at the entrance, and no one told me anything,” quips the fifty-something.
“There have been a lot of demonstrations against the closure of beaches and the mask around here … Many stores are doing what is necessary not to lose customers”, explains to AFP the seller of a shop , on condition of anonymity.
In the neighboring streets, few inhabitants or tourists who wander wear a mask. Tracy, a 25-year-old athletic blonde who returns from the beach with her surfboard under her arm, is part of the lot.
She confides having tried at the beginning to convince certain friends and acquaintances to respect the instructions, before resigning herself. “Sometimes it quickly turned into an argument, I don’t know why but the subject is too sensitive. I dropped the matter,” she said.
– Liberty or death –
The subject is so sensitive that last month, the director of public health of Orange County preferred to resign after repeated attacks and a death threat: she had dared to make the wearing of the mask compulsory.
His successor hastened to remove the measure, contenting himself with “recommending” its use.
County Sheriff Don Barnes has officially declared anyway that he has no intention of enforcing the measure decreed by the Governor of California, calling for “individual responsibility. He has since put a little water in his wine and said he was ready to sanction repeat offenders while wanting to continue to favor an “educational approach”.
Why such reluctance to wear the mask, in Orange County as in many other regions of the United States?
The mask is uncomfortable and has not yet become a habit, like the seat belt at the time, notes Wendy Wood, who teaches psychology at USC Dornsife University.
But there is “undoubtedly a political dimension”, especially in a county of Orange which was until recently a conservative stronghold, she believes.
The mask became “politicized and ended up representing your political orientation,” she said, referring to the poll showing that Democratic sympathizers were much more supportive and inclined to wear the mask than the Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump, itself notoriously reluctant to this accessory.
For Alison Dundes-Renteln, political scientist and anthropologist at USC Dornsife, the question goes beyond a simple partisan divide, however.
“I’m not denying that there is a kind of tribalism and hyper-politicization (of the mask), but I think it reflects specifics of American national identity, the fact that Americans don’t like the government tell them what to do. + Give me freedom or kill me + “, she analyzes.
In fact, like Davey, opponents of the mask dispute the object itself as much as the authorities’ right to impose it on them.
“One of the things that strikes me in this controversy is the misinterpretation that is made of individual freedom, which is not an absolute principle” as the Supreme Court recognized in 1905 on the subject of compulsory vaccination, underlines Ms. Dundes-Renteln.
ban / iba / cn