Masks can help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but they couldn’t slow the spread of several viral conspiracy theories at a county meeting this week in Florida, where locals showed up to air their unscientific grievances over a new mandatory mask rule.
Palm Beach County commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to make masks mandatory in indoor public spaces amid a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the state. However, officials first had to sit through several angry speeches from locals who cited God, the devil and various far-right, baseless conspiracy theories surrounding masks and the virus.
More than 18 million people watched two clips from the meeting on Twitter in which locals could be seen sharing unfounded claims involving QAnon, Pizzagate, 5G towers and Plandemic — some of the most popular conspiracy theories that continue to thrive in the darker corners of Facebook, despite a lack of evidence to support them.
“You literally cannot mandate somebody to wear a mask, knowing that that mask is killing people,” a woman named Christina Gomez says in one of the clips. “It literally is killing people!”
It’s not, despite a false claim touted in the viral Plandemic video. Masks actually help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that could carry the virus, according to the World Health Organization.
Gomez did not offer any evidence to support her claim. Instead, she suggested that local officials and doctors could be subjected to a “citizen’s arrest” if they voted for the mask rule.
“Every single one of you that are obeying the devil’s laws and you, doctor, are going to be arrested for crimes against humanity,” she claimed. She also brought up the 5G conspiracy theory and suggested that everyone who voted would be punished by God.
“This is insane,” the woman said, before citing conspiracy theories around Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, the “deep state” and Pizzagate.
Another woman at the meeting claimed that using masks was an affront to God.
“They want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door. You’re all turning your backs,” said the woman, whom CBS 12 identified as Sylvia Ball.
A third woman named Cindy denounced the city officials for their science-based approach and claimed they were “arrogant” to try to regulate her breathing.
“Where do you derive the authority to regulate human breathing?” she asked, after citing lines from the Bible. She also falsely claimed that Congress is the only place where laws are made.
“You cannot just make laws!” she told the city lawmakers. “That is unconstitutional. That is not how we run this country as a republic.”
A woman named Whitney, who identified herself as an essential worker, offered her own unique rationale for not wearing a mask.
“I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear,” she said. “Things gotta breathe.”
A man named Butch tried to shout down the commissioners, claiming they hadn’t listened to “we the people.”
“I would die for the Constitution!” he shouted at them. “You know what? You disgrace me. You know why? You did not listen to we the people!”
Others at the meeting waved their hands whenever masks were mentioned. A few carried pro-Trump flags.
Thousands of users roasted the meeting attendees on Twitter, where they compared the meeting to something from Saturday Night Live or Parks & Recreation, a show that occasionally played such public comment sessions for comedy.
“We live in a post-parody world,” journalist Charlie Sykes wrote on Twitter.
Jordan Uhl, a left-leaning political activist, described the meeting as a “YouTube comments section come to life.”
“What a time to be alive,” quipped actor Zach Braff.
More than 2.3 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 121,000 have died to date.
The country saw its largest single-day surge in new cases on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous high from April 26, according to tallies of official state data. A count by the Washington Post put the numbers at 38,173, while the New York Times had it at 36,975.
Florida set a new single-day record with 5,511 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, according to the state’s health department. The only states to see bigger surges on Wednesday were California and Texas.
Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Public Health for Palm Beach County, cited the days-long surge in new cases before the mask vote on Tuesday.
“Our numbers are going in the wrong direction,” she said, according to WPTV. “We have to get these numbers down.”
The mandatory mask rule came into effect on Thursday.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
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