December 6, 2020

Remember When Our Government Health Officials Lied to Us About Face Masks

bicycle with face mask

They say that history is written by the "winners," although I've usually preferred to think of it being written by the survivors. Winning rarely seems plausible these days. Surviving is difficult enough but may at least be possible at times. Regardless, I think we can probably agree that those who write history often distort it. They minimize their failures, amplify their successes, and generally mold the result to fit their preferred narrative. It is not uncommon for us to have to wait decades to see this process clearly for what it is; however, it can sometimes happen with surprising speed, unfolding before our eyes in a matter of mere months. In circumstances like this, rare as they may be, we have no excuse for failing to detect what it taking place. Seeing it unfold in real-time makes it awfully hard to miss.

With that prelude out of the way, it is time to reveal the purpose of this brief post. I am writing to remind anyone who might come across these words at some point in the future of something many have already forgotten and countless others will soon forget:

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. government health officials actively discouraged American citizens from wearing face masks. It was not just that they told us masks were not necessary from a public health standpoint; they deliberately misled us because they were worried about the inadequate supply of masks they had on hand and wanted to make sure the few they had went to medical personnel. And so, they lied to us. Dr. Anthony Fauci himself would eventually admit this.
Want to know why there are so many conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic? I suspect this is at least part of the reason. Want to know why something as obvious as wearing face masks has become so politicized in the United States? Again, I suspect this bit of deception is at least part of the reason.

To be clear, I'm not claiming our health officials were necessarily wrong to mislead us. I'm open to considering the possibility that they may have thought their lies were serving a greater good. Perhaps they did serve a greater good. What I am suggesting, though, is that lying to us probably resulted in some unintended consequences for which we are now paying a price. Examples of these unintended consequences include widespread mistrust of government, an increased willingness to disregard public health recommendations (e.g., traveling for Thanksgiving, attending crowded churches or other events where there is no evidence of social distancing), the view that anybody now wearing masks are "suckers" or worse. Collectively, these factors have led us to where we are now with new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths spiking nearly everywhere.

What I said above about government health officials actively discouraging people from wearing masks is something many have already forgotten. It is something many more will probably forget within the next year. But it shouldn't be forgotten. It shouldn't be forgotten because we might learn something from it. And it shouldn't be forgotten because every one of these instances in which government officials we are supposed to be able to trust lie to us causes harm. They birth new conspiracy theories, strengthen old ones, and contribute to one of the most important flaws of our democratic system of government (i.e., people have to have at least some trust in their government for it to remain healthy and functional).

As far as I am concerned, every instance of our government lying to us needs to be remembered and resolved. We cannot realistically expect that it will never happen, but we need to have confidence that it won't be swept under the rug when it does happen. This is about rebuilding and restoring trust. Without trust, the system doesn't work. Without justice and accountability, the system doesn't work. And so, I encourage everyone to remember that we were lied to. Even if you think this lie served the greater good, it was still a lie and remains something for us to resolve.