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Why face masks became political in the US

How America screwed up its messaging on masks.

The message from public health experts is clear: Wearing a mask can help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But that message hasn’t completely gotten through; many Americans still simply don’t believe it.

It’s a major failure of communication, one that has very likely cost lives.

But the US government actually had a plan to prevent almost this exact situation from happening: a written set of rules about communicating in a public health crisis, including guidelines on how to make sure public health information doesn’t get mixed up with politics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication guide was created after lessons learned from the 2001 anthrax attacks, where there wasn’t a clear spokesperson for public health information. It was used and refined during the H1N1 swine flu and Ebola outbreaks.

But then, when the biggest health crisis in a century arrived, the administration ignored it completely.

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