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Minority Health Month: COVID19 – Wearing Face Coverings in Public

April is Minority Health Month, and each Wednesday this month your diversity deans are going to bring you a weekly message on a topic related to minority health. This week’s topic is COV-19: Wearing Face Coverings in Public

As the CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States, a significant portion of the population with coronavirus lack symptoms. Even those who develop the virus can transmit to others before showing symptoms. According to the CDC, the virus is spread when people interact in close proximity when speaking, coughing, or sneezing. In light of this evidence, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings.

The CDC now recommends everyone wear a cloth face mask in public to help preserve medical-grade masks for health professionals. However, coronavirus is impacting the black community disproportionately. Some African Americans fear that covering your face could increase police harassment. As bandannas have long been associated with violent gangs across America black Americans could be mistaken for individuals in gang activity. For people of color, especially black men, the next few weeks will be spent weighing the costs of going in public spaces with faces covered by bandannas that could lead some to think the worst or going without a face covering and possibly risking exposure.

In Georgia, a 1951 law makes it illegal to wear facial coverings at public events. The law was enacted to deter members of the Ku Klux Klan from wearing hoods in public. There has been public pressure for Governor Brian Kemp to consider suspending the state law as it is deemed necessary to stem the outbreak.

Violating OCGA § 16-11-38 is a misdemeanor as explained in section (a).

(a) A person is guilty of a misdemeanor when he wears a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer and is upon any public way or public property or upon the private property of another without the written permission of the owner or occupier of the property to do so.

Section (b) explains the exceptions.

1-21 (b) This Code section shall not apply to:

1-22 (1) A person whose face is hidden, concealed, or covered
1-23 for reasons based on religious beliefs;

1-24 (2)A person wearing a traditional holiday costume on
1-25 the occasion of the holiday;

1-26 (3) A person lawfully engaged in trade and employment
1-27 or in a sporting activity where a mask is worn for the
1-28 purpose of ensuring the physical safety of the wearer,
1-29 or because of the nature of the occupation, trade, or
1-30 profession, or sporting activity;

1-31 (4) A person wearing facial covering for medical
1-32 treatment;

After public pressure from several lawmakers, Governor Kemp suspended the face mask law as of April 13, 2020. It is a concern that African Americans walking around with scarves or bandannas, etc. wrapped around their face to protect from COVID could be deemed suspicious.
COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus. According to the CDC, it is critical that maintaining 6-feet social distancing and simple face coverings remain important to slow the spread of the virus.

Wanda S. Thomas (MUSM Assistant Dean of Diversity & Inclusion, Macon)
Bonzo Reddick (MUSM Associate Dean of Diversity & Inclusion, Savannah)
Jacob Warren (MUSM Associate Dean of Diversity & Inclusion, Macon & Columbus)