They are just a small strip of cloth but somehow masks have become the symbol of America's coronavirus outbreak.
For activists on the right, masks are an objectionable sign of being controlled and told what to do. For most people, including many medical experts, they are now one of the few tools left in the box to protect the US public.
With 2.7 million confirmed Covid-19 infections and more than 129,400 deaths, the country has a quarter of the world's cases with less than 5 per cent of the global population.
The formula for tightly suppressing or eliminating the virus has been followed by enough countries to show it is possible to be successful.
In America's case, the most damning comparison is with the European Union's mountain peak-shaped coronavirus curve. It was unprepared and sluggish in reacting to the threat, has lacked a national strategy, was slow to ramp up testing and US President Donald Trump pushed for reopening the economy before virus case numbers were sufficiently low.
Trump refused to be seen wearing a mask in public, setting the tone for his supporters. Some US states and some cities have mandated mask use, others do not. This week he finally relented, telling Fox Business: "I'm all for masks. I think masks are good. I would wear – if I was in a group of people, and it was close – I would, I have, I mean people have seen me wearing one."
Still, hardly a ringing endorsement and nowhere near enough to undo his months of denial.
Masks have been shown to block at least some droplets from the nose and mouth from spreading during sneezing and coughing. They work by reducing opportunities for the virus to spread.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially downplayed mask-use but the tune changed as it became clear that many people do not show symptoms and there is wide community spread in the US. Asian countries, in particular, use masks as a vital shield against viruses.
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And yet why the fuss? Swat teams wear masks, surgeons wear masks. People follow rules they may not like every day.
One thing that masks cannot do is cover a government's pandemic failure.