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Are masks becoming political statements?

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this week, the bicycle I ride for exercise each day after the daily grind in my basement office needed a minor repair.

A sign on the door of the shop told me to wait outside. Only 10 people were allowed inside at a time. After a while, a young woman opened the door and invited me in.

She was not wearing a mask. Neither was anyone inside. I did, however, sense a conscious effort by myself and others to keep at a distance from each other.

So, are we ready for the next phase in this pandemic — the “stabilization phase” the governor wants to usher in with the month of May? Are we ready, in other words, for restaurants, hair salons and other businesses that naturally result in close personal contact to reopen under strict guidelines?

One rule for this new phase is to have “face coverings worn in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” according to an official state website. It’s the exact same wording used in the “high-risk” phase the state has been in for many weeks now, but it arguably is more important in this phase. It also might be seen as an outward sign of our inward commitment to each other.

Which leads me to a second question. Is the decision whether or not to mask up tied somehow to politics?

The Washington Post this week quoted Robert Kahn, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis and an expert on Americans and masks, as saying this might be so. President Donald Trump has said the federal government recommends wearing a mask, although he has declined to do so, and yet Kahn said some people might see going maskless as a way to signal support for quickly opening the economy or as support for the president, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Are some people losing focus, here?

If we allow a pandemic that has so-far caused the deaths of nearly 60,000 Americans to become a political football, that would signal something disturbing about the nation. Some are even printing messages on masks, turning them into facial bumper stickers, which seems just as bad as refusing to wear one as a statement.

The coronavirus is no respecter of ideology. At a time when people need to unify in fighting the virus, the natural divisiveness of politics can only hinder. Would letting these days of pain and uncertainty go nonpoliticized be asking too much during an election year?

Other dynamics are at work in different parts of the country. A friend of mine posted a Facebook meme about how strange it feels to walk into a bank wearing a mask and asking for money. But if you are a member of a racial minority and fear racial profiling, it might not be so funny.

It’s hard to discern many of these trends in Utah, at least outwardly. My bike shop experience notwithstanding,


What the CEO of Specialized Bicycle had to do get a million masks

  • Mike Sinyard, CEO of Specialized Bicycle, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of high-end bicycles, is paying for 1 million masks to be manufactured out of his own pocket.
  • But, he tells Business Insider, what he thought would be an easy task turned into an almost impossible one between regulations preventing countries from exporting masks and price-gouging.
  • So far, he’s obtained 40,000 masks, and he finally found a contract manufacturer to make the rest, which will be delivered within a few months.
  • Sinyard says its become the responsibility of business leaders to take on a social role, especially when government efforts are falling short, and people’s lives are at stake.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It was the pictures of nurses coming to work wearing trash bags for protection against COVID-19 that riled up Mike Sinyard into doing something. 

Sinyard is founder and CEO of Specialized Bicycle, one of the world’s largest high-end bicycle manufacturers. Its bikes can be seen all over the roads and trails among those who are willing to spend big bucks on their sport. The flagship S-Works bike frequently graces the podiums at mountain biking world cups and pro WorldTour races.

The private company, with an estimated $500 million in sales back in 2011 — the most recently published data — was founded by Sinyard in 1976 in the sleepy little town of Morgan Hill, California, the southern outpost of Silicon Valley. It now employs about 600 people worldwide, including the impacts from a layoff of 46 people (about 7% of its workforce) last week, mostly in Europe, where COVID-19 has been raging in bike-loving places like Italy. As part of that layoff, Sinyard is forgoing his salary and his top management is taking pay cuts, reports Bicycle Retailer’s Marc Sani.

About a month ago, Sinyard heard the tales of hospital staff struggling to get enough protective gear and vowed to do something.

He looked to his own network of Asian manufacturers that produce all sorts of products for his company, from complicated bike parts to clothing. 

“Initially, we were stunned at the significance of this. We have a lot of colleagues in Europe and Italy,” he said. After reading the story of the nurses wearing trash bags. “All the sudden I became obsessed with this thing.”

At first, he thought his team could manufacturer face shields, as they love engineering and building stuff, he said. But then he realized that spinning that up would take too long. The immediate need was (and still is) professionally manufactured face masks, both N95 and surgical masks.

So he vowed to buy 1 million face masks and have them imported to the US. He also needed to procure masks to protect his employees. Bike shops are essential businesses in the US and have remained open.

“So I thought, ‘Oh this easy. No problem,'” he says.  But it wasn’t. With the whole world trying to buy masks, Sinyard ran into one road block after another. “Asia, Oh my


Coronavirus: Morgan Hill bicycle company sources and donates masks to healthcare workers

MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) — Face masks are hard to come by, even for health care workers. So, Morgan Hill-based bike company, Specialized, has been using its worldwide contacts, calling in favors, and spending millions of dollars to get face masks to medical workers.

Specialized CEO Mike Sinyard told me healthcare workers are the heroes of this pandemic.

He knows he is fortunate to have the wherewithal to secure so many masks, but encourages all of us to lend a helping hand to healthcare workers.

“How could you help them?” he asks. “Can you help them by preparing food, can you help them by taking care of their kids, because the kids will be home. Everything helps.”

Mask shipments have begun arriving at the company’s Morgan Hill headquarters, and among the first to get masks are local hospitals, including Watsonville Community Hospital.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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