Cuomo's star-studded 'Mask Up America' campaign is like 'Got Milk?' for the pandemic era

Screenshot via Governor Cuomo on YouTube

New York City residents, living in such close quarters, witnessed firsthand how coronavirus ravages communities. With COVID-19 now spreading fast in other parts of the country, namely the places that didn’t take precautionary measures very seriously and rushed to reopen their economies, the Big Apple has a message to share. In a star-studded PSA spearheaded by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Robert De Niro urge Americans everywhere to wear a mask to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Cuomo has been a vocal proponent of mask wearing to slow the transmission of COVID-19. In April, he signed executive orders requiring New Yorkers to don face coverings in public and while on public transportation. "New Yorkers suffered gravely when this pandemic hit our state, and as we see other states battle the surge of COVID-19, we want to be sure all Americans know what we know here: that it is essential to wear a mask in order to protect one another," Governor Cuomo said in a statement announcing the “Mask Up America” campaign.

The PSA series features eight 30-second video spots, two of which rolled out on July 16. In one, the faces of people wearing surgical masks flash across the screen, backed by inspirational music. Morgan Freeman’s soothing baritone explains the logic of face coverings to Americans: “When you wear a mask, you have my respect. Because your mask doesn’t protect you, it protects me.”

The other videos feature Kaitlyn Dever, Jamie Foxx, John Leguizamo, Anthony Mackie, Rosie Perez, Ellen Pompeo and Jeffrey Wright. Cuomo partnered with Tribeca Film Festival co-founders Jane Rosenthal and DeNiro to produce the PSA, helmed by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow. "We can only beat this virus if we are united as one, not divided by ideology or politics,” Cuomo added. “I wear a mask to protect you and you wear a mask to protect me. It is simple as that. Mask Up America."

Masks are one of the simplest ways that health officials say we can stop the spread of the virus. But face coverings have proved extremely divisive among some Americans, and the issue has devolved into a mostly partisan battle. The lack of central leadership from the White House has prompted many celebrities to use their platforms to advocate for public health.

On The Late Show on Tuesday night, Tom Hanks questioned the patriotism of people who refuse to wear a mask. “Are they Americans? It's literally the least you can do," Hollywood’s COVID-19 “patient zero” snarked to Stephen Colbert. His wife, Rita Wilson, who also battled coronavirus, echoed Hanks’s plea on CBS This Morning on Friday while speaking with Gayle King. Just before the 4th of July, Bill Pullman (who played the president in 1996’s Independence Day) filmed a PSA for Alamo Drafthouse, urging people to wear “freedom masks,” because “if all of America wore one of these, we’d be a little closer to being free to safely go back to places like bars and restaurants and schools and, most importantly, movie theaters,” Pullman said.

A cascade of new mandatory mask requirements rolled out across the country this week, including in some states led by Republican governors. And according to a recent Gallup survey, most Americans support face coverings, with 72 percent of adults saying they always or very often wear a mask when they leave the house, while just 18 percent said they rarely or never wore a face covering. But there’s still firm resistance to mask mandates from factions that feel like their personal liberties are being infringed upon by the state.

While mask debate has raged for nearly six months, the “Mask Up America” campaign aims to do for public health what “Got Milk?” likely did for everyone’s bone density. Cuomo and his famous friends are looking to shift the conversation from one about personal freedom to one about looking out for each other. It’s a really noble endeavor, especially since if it works and people start being diligent about wearing masks, the country could follow in New York’s footsteps, stamp out the virus, and get back to life as usual a little sooner.