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"Not wearing masks is hard to understand, because it's not that bothersome," Gates said Tuesday at Fast Company Impact Council's virtual annual meeting. "It's not expensive, and yet some people feel it's a sign of freedom or something, despite risk of infecting other people."
U.S. health officials continue to recommend face coverings as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19, along with social distancing and personal hygiene.
In the U.S., the topic of wearing masks has at times caused political debates about freedom and personal responsibility. In some Asian countries, however, masks are more widely accepted as something people wear when sick -- even with an illness that is not COVID-19.
Hong Kong, for example, has a population of 7.5 million people and is one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, but the region has reported on six deaths due to COVID-19, which experts attribute to dedicated mask-wearing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Gates has been vocal about the ways in which he thinks Americans, in particular, can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and personally donated $100 million to COVID-19 relief efforts through his philanthropy organization, The Gates Foundation, as early as February.
The Microsoft founder has also been at the forefront of a number of COVID-19-related conspiracy theories due to his 2015 prediction that the U.S. was unprepared for a pandemic and his consistent support for the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing disease.
"A lot of it comes in the form of conspiracy, where someone's got some plot and my name even comes up as potentially at the center of some conspiracies, so it is a bit scary," Gates said of some of the discussion he has been hearing about the pandemic. "You'd want to be driven towards the facts in a crisis like this."