On Thursday, July 9th, Starbucks announced that face masks would be required at all company-owned stores in the United States. The order, according to the announcement, will be in place regardless of whether or not a city- or statewide mandate is in place for the given location. And as the US government continues to sit on its hands—or perhaps more aptly, tell us that the real problem is that America’s hand are too great and doing too good of a job so really the solution is to just lop off a hand or two—we all need to come to grips with the fact that the new mandate from Starbucks is probably as close as we are going to get to a nationwide mask ordinance.
Right now in America we are in an uphill battle against COVID-19, literally. Have you seen a chart of new cases recently? We are spiking upwards, hanging out above the 50,000 case mark with no signs of slowing down. America holds the inauspicious records of having the most confirmed cases worldwide as well as the most deaths of any nation. We comprise 4% of the global population but 25% of all meaningful COVID statistics. Some 200,000 Americans are predicted to die from COVID-19 by Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020, a very important upcoming date indeed.
According to all the leading science, the best answer to stem the perhaps already-too-big-to-stem tide—other than another shutdown, which we can all agree nobody wants, and we may be hurtling towards regardless—is to just wear a damn mask when in public. But we here in America are at our most lizard-brained, where empathy has been contorted and politicized and mangled until it has become a battle for our very freedoms. Wearing a piece of cloth over your face, it seems, is now an act of oppression against the masses.
The best way to keep the disease from spreading is by wearing a mask, not because it is effective in protecting the wearer from contracting it but because it keeps them from potentially transmitting it to others. This epidemiological reality has run headfirst into a trembling, flailing American identity, resolutely unfit to do that what must be done to curb the pandemic’s growth, starting with the acknowledgement of reality. It requires dogmatic, me-first freedom-loving ‘Mericans to think beyond themselves en masse, to willfully accept the smallest of inconveniences for a larger good, or to simply not turn a minor annoyance into an all-out battle for the soul of the Republic. We are, in short, deeply fucked.
The alternative to 300+ million people each individually making the single right decision would be one for particular individual wielding great power to mandate it. And they have, thank goodness. A leader of the people with the executive wherewithal to soberly ask for sacrifice, draw on our better angels, uphold the collective good, and serve the people for whom they have been duly chosen to represent.
Their name is [checks notes] Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.
With close to 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States, each drawing an average 500 customers a day as well as employing 180,000 individuals, the Starbucks mandate has created a mask requirement for some 5 million people a day. This makes it effectively the single largest mask ordinance in the United States right now, and it’s being led by a coffee company. Our greatest ally in the fight against COVID-19, it turns out, is the green house, not the white one.
This is not to say Starbucks is above reproach. Their buying practices exist within a questionable morass of PR-driven morality and they have gone out of their way to mishandle instances of baristas wanting to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Even with much of the good work they have done in the past, like their expansive healthcare policy for transgender employees and their subsidized backup care program, it’s easy to find the stains on the Starbucks apron. But here, in an instance where there has been a vacuum of leadership leading us down a very dark path we may not be able to walk back, they have provided a small glimmer of decency. With the single stroke of a pen, they have enacted a mask requirement that impacts roughly 2% of Americans each day.
And that’s really all it is: decency. Doing the bare minimum to make sure you aren’t part of the problem. But somehow in America in 2020, decency is tyranny, and being asked to wear a mask is the greatest possible infringement of our nation’s sacred freedoms. This is the incredibly foolish reality we now inhabit. And while I won’t end this editorial by telling you to go out and order a frappuccino to celebrate, I will end it by saying, wait for it, thank you Starbucks. We are always going to be critical of you and make fun of you when warranted, but in this moment you’ve made the plainly correct decision in a time when doing so is bewilderingly radical. Your country owes you a debt of gratitude.