As images of people wearing surgical masks flashed across the screen, Morgan Freeman’s deep, soothing voice delivered a message to America: “When you wear a mask, you have my respect. Because your mask doesn’t protect you, it protects me.”

Using familiar actors, stirring background music and the arresting eyes of people peering out above their masks, a broad national ad campaign unveiled on Thursday by New York State, once the center of the coronavirus pandemic, aimed to educate people about how covering their mouths and noses could save lives.

That it was needed at all — six months since the virus was first detected in the United States — speaks to the lingering fight about the use of masks. At local government meetings and in the checkout lines of big-box stores, Americans continue to wrestle over one of the simplest methods that health officials recommend for stopping the spread of the virus.

A tidal wave of new mask requirements has been issued in the last few days, amid surging cases in many regions, including more than 75,000 new coronavirus cases across the country on Thursday, the most in a single day. Face coverings will be required at stores like Walmart, Target and CVS, and in a growing number of Republican-led states where governors once resisted such mandates.

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