"It keeps people from seeing my smile," said one Palm Beach resident as she made her case to the County Board for Floridians to not be forced to wear face masks, even as the state's Covid-19 cases soared.

Another argued against the county's proposed mask mandate, citing the devil, 5G, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, "the paedophiles" and the Deep State.

"I don't wear a mask for the same reason I don't wear underwear," offered a third. "Things gotta breathe."

Florida, which had been spared early on in the outbreak, is now among the states reporting a huge spike in infections.

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The Sunshine State has seen a 604 per cent increase in new Covid-19 cases in the past 30 days and is now recording a staggering 25 per cent positive test rate.

Despite this, Ron De Santis, the governor of Florida, and other Republican governors of hard-hit states continue to resist calls for a statewide mask order, as have many of their constituents.

There is a growing movement across America questioning the necessity of masks due to flip-flopping health recommendations, personal freedoms and misreporting on the risks.

"It is literally killing people," said one Palm Beach constituent during the County Board vote last week, who - without citing a source - claimed that people can suffocate while wearing face coverings.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci adjusts his protective face mask. AP Photo / Al Drago, pool
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci adjusts his protective face mask. AP Photo / Al Drago, pool

She called into question the credentials of Alina Alonso, the director of the Palm Beach County Department of Health, who was present at this meeting.

"I wear one to protect you," Alonso had said during her own testimony. "You wear one to protect me."

Out of the 52 people who submitted requests to testify, only a handful spoke in favour of masks. Nevertheless, the board voted unanimously in support of an emergency order requiring face masks in public.

Cathy Cole, a resident of Palm Beach who was not at the meeting but agreed with many of the arguments put forward by fellow residents, told the Telegraph she saw the decision as an infringement of her rights.

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"I'd rather do my shopping online and never leave my house again, than wear a mask for even five minutes," said Cole, 46, who works in PR. "It's just another way to control us."

Cole said she did not know of anyone who had died from the virus and understood it was mostly affecting the over-65s.

She gets most of her information on the coronavirus from Facebook. She had joined a group on the social media site called "Freedom to Breathe Agency".

There, she came across links to news stories published on little-known websites claiming mask-wearers were at risk of dying from a lack of oxygen, or carbon dioxide poisoning. Both theories have been debunked by medical experts.

The Freedom to Breathe Agency (FTBA) had even made cards featuring forged Department of Justice insignia, claiming the holder is exempt from having to wear a mask for medical reasons and citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It is our focus to educate the public about the importance of unobstructed oxygen to their overall well-being and help the community increase natural immunity without sacrificing their freedom of responsible choice, their health and the health of others," said Lenka Koloma, a motivational speaker who founded the group.

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In recent days, Facebook has applied a "false information" label to some of the content being shared on one FTBA page, while another has been shut down.

Facebook and other sites are full of Covid-19 misinformation groups, populated by users who are also members of pages opposing mandatory vaccines.

Other Florida residents have been tuning into YourVoice America, an online station hosted by far-Right Donald Trump fan Bill Mitchell.

"I put on a mask and literally within seconds, I am struggling to breathe," tweeted Miami-based Mitchell on Tuesday to his more than half-a-million followers.

Protesters gather near the Legislative Building in North Carolina to protest a statewide mask mandate to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. AP Photo / Gerry Broome
Protesters gather near the Legislative Building in North Carolina to protest a statewide mask mandate to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. AP Photo / Gerry Broome

Sometimes, the refusal to wear face coverings has turned to physical or verbal abuse - "mask rage" - such as towards employees at supermarkets who enforce the guidelines. Videos of some of the incidents have gone viral.

Others the Telegraph spoke to were more religious-minded on the matter.

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"It's God's will if coronavirus takes us," said one mask holdout, Michael Harris, a 38-year-old carpenter from Texas.

"We can't hole ourselves inside forever, covering our faces and never seeing people again."

He was guided mostly by discussions on the pandemic he had with his priest and other members of the congregation in Dallas, admitting he rarely watched or read the news. "You don't look to politicians in a time of crisis, you look to your faith."

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US's top virology expert, and others have warned that "anti-maskers" and anti-vaxxers could seriously hinder America's progress in combating the virus.

"There is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking."

Mask-wearing for some people has become an identifier of broader beliefs and political leanings.

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Some President Donald Trump supporters believe the coroanvirus threat is overblown and timed to damage his re-election. AP Photo / Alex Brandon, file
Some President Donald Trump supporters believe the coroanvirus threat is overblown and timed to damage his re-election. AP Photo / Alex Brandon, file

Cole, a Trump supporter, suggested that the virus threat had been deliberately overblown and that the timing - months before the US presidential election - was designed to hurt the Republican party's chances.

Trump enjoys considerable support in Palm Beach, which is home to his famous Mar-a-Lago hotel.

She questioned why Trump was criticised for holding indoor campaign rallies, while the same criticism was not being levelled at large Black Lives Matter gatherings.

The Trump administration has officially recommended mask wearing, but the President himself is rarely spotted in public with a mask on and they were not required at his recent campaign rally in Tulsa.

Vice President Mike Pence removes his mask to make comments at First Baptist Church Dallas on June 28, 2020. AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez
Vice President Mike Pence removes his mask to make comments at First Baptist Church Dallas on June 28, 2020. AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has called for Trump to lead by example and wear a mask. Even hosts of Fox News, once the President's preferred TV station, said he would be a "good role model" if he wore one.