#WearaDamnMask: will celebrity selfies solve America's mask problem?

Sarah Kennedy
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon join the #wearamask movement on Instagram - Instagram

Samira Nasr, newly appointed editor in chief of US Harper's Bazaar posted a galvanising message to her 96.6k followers on Instagram this week, with a hashtag urging them to #WearaDamnMask. She had taken her cue from the fashion designer Tory Burch, who had posted a selfie showing her wearing a matching mask and blouse, along with the message: 'I am sure you all are seeing what I am seeing, COVID 19 rates in the USA are rising at a truly scary rate. One thing I know for sure is that there's a very easy way each of us can help, and that's to #WearaDamnMask whenever we are in public.'

Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and others joined in, posting pictures of themselves wearing masks and asking followers to do the same. Despite the numbers of deaths, the one simple safety measure everyone can take to combat the spread of Covid 19 has divided the nation and many still refuse to wear a mask.

For New Yorkers, the devastating impact of Covid 19’s 17,757 death toll in the city so far will last forever but only a few weeks ago, news pictures revealed revelers maskless and definitely not practising social distancing during Memorial day celebrations. Lake of the Ozarks in Kansas gained notoriety beyond the Netflix series, as the spot for the most intense unhygienic pool party of the weekend; positive cases of Covid-19 from party attendees continue to pop up in the news. In Florida, hundreds of college students attending beach parties over Memorial Day weekend caught the virus and the state is now facing a crisis as numbers spike.  

There are multiple reasons why so many are still risking their own and the lives of others by not wearing masks. President Trump has only just declared that he’s “all for masks” after demonstrating opposition against wearing one for months. His actions fueled beliefs among thousands of Americans that Covid-19 is just another kind of common cold or flu and encouraged a lack of trust in the data behind the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, Covid 19 has hit black communities and areas of social need where healthcare is just too expensive to maintain, with the most vehemence. “It’s taking us out,” Oprah Winfrey said on NBC’s national Today show on April 14th, telling host Hoda Kotb: “It’s killing your cousins and your friends and your neighbors. And you need to do whatever you can to protect yourself.”

The lack of mask-wearing across the US in recent weeks prompted New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut governor Ned Lamont to demand quarantine for people entering their states from elsewhere in the US.

The US fashion industry is based in Manhattan and as the virus took hold, workers from design, manufacturing and media witnessed the devastation first hand. No one will forget the dark days in March when bodies of Covid victims were piling up in the hospitals and the city’s unclaimed dead were being buried in unmarked graves on Hart Island, the bleak outpost off the Bronx.

As news of PPE running low in hospitals began to break, Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio urged everyone to wear masks but they quickly sold out. Designer Christian Siriano was the first to wade in, diverting his workers from regular tasks to making fabric masks. Naeem Khan plus fashion companies Rag and Bone and Eileen Fisher followed. Quickly, a global movement evolved and brands from The Vampire's Wife to Louis Vuitton took on the task.

As we enter July, Covid 19 seems to be contained in New York and north eastern states. However, in the South and West numbers are rising, particularly in California where a new LA lockdown in place. Everyone who cares about social welfare and justice, from Black Lives Matter and onwards feels the fear of these Covid spikes.

But there is a joint sense of despair over the #wearadamnmask message not filtering down to thousands in the US who have yet to feel impacted by Covid 19. In New York, Covid 19 is Generation Z’s 9/11. During the city’s Black Lives Matter protests almost all the demonstrators wore masks. Face coverings have become as crucial as shoes to everyone here.

What will it take for this to happen across the rest of the US? I hope the well-meant encouragement from Aniston et al will have an impact but whether the message can reach those who need it most remains to be seen. 

For more news, analysis and advice from The Telegraph's fashion desk, click here to sign up to get our weekly newsletter, straight to your inbox every Friday. Follow our Instagram @Telegraphfashion