To mask or not to mask. That, you might think, would be a simple public health and medical question. But not in the US.
Up until now US President Donald Trump has insisted on staying mask free. The white teeth, the tanned complexion were there for all to see. Always.
As the source of all his public messaging, he was not going into facial lockdown for anyone.
But times are changing, and so too is Trump’s reluctance to cover up. In an interview on Fox News he admitted he had tried on a black mask, and he liked the way he looked.
“Actually, I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked, OK? I thought it was OK,” Trump told Fox Business.
It may seem a trivial point but the signal that he may cover the presidential visage is more significant than it seems.
At the not-as-popular-as-expected Tulsa rally, Trump and his supporters gathered at an indoor arena, mostly without masks.
Even before the event began, Trump campaign workers were seen removing the stickers from seats which were to have been kept empty to improve social distancing.
The President’s underlying message was the virus is behind us and masks are for the old, the vulnerable and the Democrats.
Except no matter how hard he tries to downplay the “China Virus” or the “Kung Flu” as he likes to call it, it refuses to obey and just keeps on infecting Americans at an ever increasing rate: now at 50,000 cases, not a month, not a week, but every single day.
As the US curve goes up, Trump’s polling goes down
This is not good news for Trump, who calculates his re-election chances are based on a strong economy and a vanquished virus.
In Australia, we rightly angst about the Victorian infections racing away from us, over 70 a day.
In the United States they reach that number every two minutes. And that’s just those who are tested.
The Centres for Disease Control recently estimated infections could be 10 times the official figures.
If so, it could mean about 25 million Americans have been visited by this modern-day plague, the equivalent of the entire population of Australia.
So no matter how much Trump wants it to all go away — and says they are beating it — it has not.
As leaders of every country will tell you, their first responsibility is the protection of their people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seen as having done well and his soaring popularity reflects policies and actions that have largely worked.
Meanwhile, Trump’s ratings are heading south, with the country’s death toll at almost 130,000.
In places like Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, the spiralling numbers are seen as a direct consequence of easing restrictions too early.
It has cost lives too, and there are serious dangers ahead this weekend.
Fourth of July is one of the most important holidays on the US calendar
There’s nothing quite like summer in the United States. As the weather warms up, students graduate and start flocking to beaches and bars to celebrate their freedom.
Families and friends gather on Memorial Day in May and Father’s Day in June. The party doesn’t really stop until after the Fourth of July weekend.
But as the US coronavirus infection rate soars sharply to new heights, some experts are blaming these seemingly innocent summer gatherings.
On May 25 — Memorial Day weekend — police in Florida had to break up a boardwalk party on Daytona Beach, while images of a packed pool party in Missouri went viral online.
When you add in mass protests over the death of George Floyd, and states beginning to reopen, these holiday gatherings may have lit the fuse under America’s coronavirus powder keg.
“Cases surged after Memorial Day,” Oregon’s state health officer Dean Sidelinger said.
Many states have cancelled their usual fireworks displays and closed down beaches to prevent large crowds gathering in public.
But even a small party can have devastating and deadly consequences. A Texas surprise party last month infected 18 members of the same family.
Texas is now seeing 6,000 new cases a day and many hospitals say they’re nearly at capacity.
“COVID-19 is so prevalent amongst the public, if we have another weekend like this it could devastate us as a state,” Houston emergency room doctor Natasha Kathuria told ABC13.
Texas is now America’s virus epicentre
Coronavirus has reached the Wild West, and it’s hitting a state known for rugged individualism, cowboy mythology, and a widespread distrust of government.
This is a place where most people don’t have to wear helmets while riding a motorcycle if they don’t want to.
So it’s little wonder some residents have bristled at government measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Several bar owners in the state have gone so far as to sue Texas Governor Greg Abbott after he ordered bars to close back down on June 26 as the state’s number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.
But Texas, like America, is much more complex than the pervasive myths we’re sold in movies and the country’s own folklore.
Yes, the Republican Governor, who’s a passionate Trump supporter, declined to impose a stay-at-home order until March 31, and then raced to become one of the first states to begin reopening a month later.
But many urban parts of Texas — which are more diverse and progressive — have tried to go their own way, enforcing orders for some residents to wear masks in public.
In fact, nearly seven out of 10 Texans report that they wear a mask in public on a fairly regular basis.
Mask wearing, like holiday parties and trips to the beach, remains in most places an individual choice.
And it only takes a few more people to go it alone to set an entire country on a dangerous new path.