As masks continue to serve as a political symbol in much of the United States, the government of Israel last week more than doubled the fines for not wearing a mask in public. Fines were raised from 200 shekels ($58) to 500 shekels ($146), after one government official even proposed raising it to as much as 2,000 shekels ($583).
The government action came as Israel experienced a new spike in COVID-19 cases, reaching more than 600 new cases a day in late June. That compares to fewer than 100 new cases a day in most of May as the country started reopening after a nearly complete shutdown.
By comparison, the United States was reporting more than 42,000 new cases of the virus a day last week, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Of course, the populations of the two countries are incomparable. Israel’s population is 8.6 million, contrasted with the U.S. population of 331 million. Israel also has a younger population. Moreover, the pandemic and its economic impact vary widely throughout the United States, with state governments filling leadership roles and enacting rules for their own citizens.
For instance, at the same time Israel was raising its fines on not wearing masks in public, the city of Miami started charging fines as high as $500 for individuals failing to cover their mouths and noses while in public. A first offender would be issued only a verbal warning, followed by a $50 fine for a second offense, $150 for a third offense and finally $500 for a fourth offense, according to the Miami Herald.
Several other states, such as Washington, have also mandated the wearing of masks in public. In Georgia, the state Department of Public Health announced a record high number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day – 1,900 last week. Counties near or in the Atlanta metro area continue to score the highest number of cases and deaths in the state. Gov. Brian Kemp, wearing a mask recently while visiting a testing site, stated that he wouldn’t make it mandatory for everyone else.
“Mandating that is a bridge too far for me right now,” Kemp told WSB-TV. “We have to have the public buy-in.”
After Florida reported more than 9,500 new coronavirus cases, beating its record for the second consecutive day, the state’s governor decided to close bars. The governor of Texas also closed its bars after a spike in new cases.
In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommended face coverings for the public in places where social distancing is difficult. According to a recent New York Times/Siena College survey, a majority of U.S. voters agree that wearing a mask protects them and their loved ones from the COVID-19 virus.
Indeed, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in late June forecast that 180,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by Oct. 1, up from the current 125,000-plus. If 95 percent of Americans wear face masks, however, that projection drops by more than 33,000. In Georgia, the projection is 4,269 deaths if Georgians wear masks, compared to 6,614 if they do not.
Israelis, generally, are wearing masks in public, as is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.