Just as the Atlantic bubble kicked into gear on Friday, business at St. John’s International Airport changed in a notable way. While travel among the four Atlantic provinces has become easier, everyone going into YYT will have to wear a face mask — staff and passengers alike.

There was no great uproar about this news. “What took so long,” one person responded to CBC’s tweet on Thursday about the news, while another said, “I would have thought they were already.”

What an incredible difference from the U.S., where wearing masks has become intensely politicized, so much so that the very image of a face mask is now incendiary to some people. President Donald Trump has notably refused to wear one, on evident grounds that he will look weak, even though he has since early April passed on guidance from his government’s experts that there are medical benefits to wearing one.

It’s hard to keep up with the mask news from America. Consider the case of Herman Cain, whose name you may remember as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

On June 20, Cain attended the Trump rally in Tulsa last month and tweeted a photo of himself and others. There were no masks, no physical distancing. 

On July 1, Cain tweeted the latest in a series of anti-mask posts, saying people are fed up with them. 

That very night, Cain was admitted to a Georgia hospital to be treated for COVID-19 because his condition had become serious enough to warrant that level of care. (His office later said he had tested positive on Monday.)

Cain was hospitalized the same day that the U.S. set a record for single-day cases of coronavirus: 50,203. (To illustrate how the curve in the U.S. is still escalating, it’s worth noting it took the U.S. just over two months to record its first 50,000 cases.)

The next day, the governor of Texas signed an executive order making it mandatory to wear masks in counties where there are at least 20 active cases of COVID-19. (This is currently about two-thirds of the state’s counties.)

At least 20 states now have some sort of mandatory requirement for wearing masks, and as cases continue to escalate, there likely will be more. The U.S. continues to lead the world in both cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Even so, there’s a ferocious public argument in the States about masks, so much so they’ve become locked into the same populist fury that underlines so many other issues. There are so many videos of protests and counterprotests, of furious customers refusing to comply with company requests. (The most disturbing one for me was a woman deliberately coughing in the face of other customers at a New York bagel shop.)

In Canada, things are more mellow, although mandatory masks are still an issue. Earlier this week, the city council in Toronto voted to make it mandatory to wear them indoors. With more than 35,000 confirmed cases of the virus (and a death toll over 2,600), Ontario represents a third of the national caseload.

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