NASW and CASW presidents submit remarks regarding North Carolina House Bill 237

On June 5, 2024, the presidents of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) submitted a letter commenting on an amendment to North Carolina House Bill 237 “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” (H237).

A recently amended version of H237 entirely struck out the passage “any person wearing a mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others,” which had been a COVID-19 pandemic-era exception to North Carolina’s historic prohibitions on the wearing of masks in public.

The removal of such health exceptions would have impacted the ability of NASW and CASW to host the ScienceWriters2024 (SciWri24) annual meeting. The in-person conference component of SciWri24 is scheduled for Raleigh, N.C., this November.

Since in-person annual ScienceWriters meetings resumed in 2022, NASW and CASW have required or strongly encouraged attendee masking at in-person conferences, both as a public health measure and as a best practice for enhancing accessibility. Thus, any N.C. ban on medical masking in public would hamper NASW and CASW’s ability to foster a safe, welcoming conference setting — one where attendees can choose to mask in public as well as in conference spaces for their own physical health or that of others.

The letter submitted by the presidents of NASW and CASW, was addressed to N.C. State Representative Erin Paré, House Deputy Conference Chair. Paré also had opposed removal of the medical-masking exception.

H237 subsequently underwent further edits. On June 11, the bill was updated to exempt “any person wearing a medical or surgical grade mask for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious disease” from the state’s masking bans. At press time, the bill had passed out of the N.C. General Assembly and was headed to the governor’s office.


June 5, 2024

Dear Representative Paré:

We are writing as leaders of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, organizations that currently are collaborating on plans for a major conference, called ScienceWriters2024, in Raleigh, set for November 8-11. About 650 attendees and staffers are expected.

As such, we are very concerned about the Senate amendment to House Bill 237 that would remove the medical exemption from North Carolina’s masking in public law.

Enthusiastic as we are about meeting in North Carolina, we are hearing from members who feel they could not attend this fall if this amendment stands. Whether or not a ban on medical masking could or would be enforced, the proposed amendment is hostile and antithetical to public health.

Attendees at the annual ScienceWriters conference include journalists and science communicators who cover health and medicine. In accordance with established science and public health experts’ recommendations, many of our attendees wear medical masks while traveling to and during the conference. We encourage this practice. We are committed to making our conferences as safe and accessible as possible for those who are immunocompromised or concerned about illness and to preventing the spread of infectious disease.

We hope to avoid relocating our upcoming conference outside North Carolina, but we would have to consider doing so if any version of this measure were enacted.

Thank you for your opposition to this misguided amendment to the masking-in-public law.

Sincerely,

Cassandra Willyard
President
National Association of Science Writers

Robin M. Lloyd
President
Council for the Advancement of Science Writing


To reach the NASW Board, email president@nasw.org

Founded in 1934 with a mission to fight for the free flow of science news, NASW is an organization of ~2,400 professional journalists, authors, editors, producers, public information officers, students and people who write and produce material intended to inform the public about science, health, engineering, and technology. To learn more, visit www.nasw.org and follow NASW on LinkedIn and Bluesky. And join us in celebrating #NASW90th.

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