The Covid-19 pandemic is not over, not with an average of 29,451 Covid-19-related hospitalizations and 449 Covid-19-related deaths still occurring each day, according to the New York Times. But you might not have known that while watching the U.S. President’s State of the Union address last night. After all, the House of Representatives chamber of the United States Capitol was filled with mask-less Congresspersons with exposed noses and mouths. Particularly exposed mouths. You may have noticed one notable exception, though: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Yes, during the televised State of the Union broadcast, there were as many Congresspersons wearing high-quality face masks as there were Congresspersons wearing bright Pokemon yellow dresses with huge ruffle sleeves—namely one of each. Sanders wasn’t the one wearing the dress that you could have seen through a dense fog. No, that was Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona). Sanders was the one wearing the face mask. Sanders was wearing a more standard jacket and tie. But as Eric Feigl-Ding, PhD, an epidemiologist and Chief of the COVID Risk Task Force at the New England Complex Systems Institute, pointed out on Twitter, “Bernie Sanders is the only person wearing a KN95 mask at the #StateOfTheUnionAddress”:
Now, was it really that surprising that Sanders was the only Congressperson seen wearing a face mask? After all, various political leaders have been trying to say that the pandemic is over since, oh, the pandemic first started early 2020. Remember when then U.S. President and current Mar-A-Lago resident Donald Trump had claimed that the pandemic was rounding the corner so often that it felt like a dodecahedron, which is a shape with 12 sides? Or how about when U.S. President Joe Biden had said not once but twice on 60 Minutes that “The pandemic is over,” which turned out to be a premature declaration in September 2033, as I covered for Forbes at the time? Then, there was the “Pandemic is Over Act” that Rep. Guthrie, Brett (R-Kentucky) that introduced on January 17, 2023, and aimed to terminate “the Covid-19 public health emergency that was declared on January 31, 2020, on the date of the bill’s enactment.”
While the Biden Administration did not agree with such an immediate termination, this past Monday, February 6, the White House did indicate that the Biden administration will let this public health emergency declaration expire in May. Isn’t that some premature anticipation? That’s a bit like saying that you will get married in May without, you now, actually notifying the person that you intend on marrying Although things have been getting better with the pandemic as more and more people have developed immunity against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from getting vaccinated and being exposed to the virus, it’s not clear whether the virus will agree to such a May end date. Plus, the Biden Administration hasn’t yet revealed what their transition plans may be. For example, it’s unclear how testing, vaccination, developing new vaccines, developing new treatments, and monitoring the spread of Covid-19 will be handled going forward.
Marcus Baram, a journalist for ProPublica, didn’t seem surprised by what he had seen at the State of Union address when he posted, “Of course Bernie is the only member of Congress wearing a mask…”:
The 81-year-old Sanders certainly didn’t “air” on the wrong side of science by choosing to wear a face mask. Pantea Javidan, JD, PhD, a scholar and research fellow at the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice, emphasized that such a choice was “airborne” out of good intentions when she posted, “Thank you, Amu @BernieSanders for wearing a mask during an airborne pandemic,” on Twitter:
After all, in an indoor location packed with so many different people who aren’t bashful about opening their mouths in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s a pretty good chance that at least one person was carrying something more than a political agenda, namely the virus. This is what Jonathan S. Reiner, MD, a Professor of Medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, emphasized with the following tweet:
Wearing a good quality face mask as Sanders did protected not only him but also anyone else he might have interacted with during and after the State of the Union address. And that’s going to be especially important if Sanders interacted with anyone at higher risk for more severe Covid-19, as @a_lil_bow alluded to in the following tweet:
Not surprisingly, some politicians and personalities on social media tried to mock and criticize Sanders for wearing a face mask. Because if you’ve got a bully pulpit, why not just bully those wearing face masks, right? For example, there was a since-deleted tweet from Eric Goulet, the Ward 3 Member of DC State Board of Education, that Alison Horn preserved for posterity:
And chances are political commentator Clay Travis didn’t mean “too perfect” to be a compliment for Sanders in the following tweet:
What kind of upside down society do we have here when hose taking precautions to protect themselves as well as others against Covid-19 by wearing a face mask end up being mocked? It seems like you have to have some thicker skin these days to maintain such precautions, as James J. Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute, indicated in a tweet that said, “At #SOTU, as someone who wears a mask in crowds & doesn’t give a damn what other people do or say – thank you @BernieSanders for taking care”:
This wasn’t the first time that Sanders has gotten a lot of attention for something that he was wearing. Back in January 2021, during Biden’s inauguration, pictures of Sanders wearing a brown parka coat and a pair of really big mittens spawned an “inter-mitten” explosion of memes. That time he was also wearing a face mask, which back then was more the norm. Things have changed since then and now Sanders has become the one percent—or actually less than one percent—of Congresspersons who chose to actually wear a face mask the State of the Union while the Covid-19 pandemic is still happening. And that says a lot about the state of our country right now.