Years ago, a fellow teacher and I were discussing rules, and he pointed out that it is not the severity of the consequences of a rule or law that determines if it is obeyed, it is the surety of the penalty. It does no good to come up with harsh punishments if there is a lack of enforcement. At no other time has this been more true than at this very point in history when government officials at all levels are dealing with the question of whether to mandate mask-wearing.
Some community leaders have voted to make the wearing of a mask a requirement when a person goes indoors or when a six-foot distance between people cannot be maintained. Others have contended that there is no way to enforce a rule requiring masks. Therefore, it is enough to “strongly recommend” compliance and that people will “do the right thing” in donning face coverings to protect the friends, neighbors and even the strangers around them. Which of these approaches is best will continue to be debated ad infinitum. Meanwhile, COVID 19 will proceed on its apolitical march through our country, state, county and cities unabated.
The evidence is becoming clearer every day that masks do in fact work. Even as more areas are seeing moderate increases in the wearing of face coverings, the upward curve of cases seems to be flattening. The correlation is clear.
So, why are some governing bodies chafing at the notion of mandating face coverings? What follows is my take on what is happening.
No. 1: To mask or not to mask, has been politicized by certain groups. For some reason, staunch conservatives seem to have latched onto the idea that having a mask mandate forced upon them is a violation of their constitutional rights. But, my question is, their rights to do what? Make other people sick? Infect themselves? Maybe they want to be able to smoke cigarettes unimpeded while they are in restaurants and bars, on airplanes, in buses, in doctors’ offices or in church. Wait a minute. Nonsmoking rules already prohibit that. Those mandates have been around for several decades and are almost never challenged, certainly not on the basis of constitutionality.
No. 2: Masks are hot and uncomfortable and make it difficult to breathe. I agree. But, I hear that ventilators are even worse.
No. 3: Wearing a face covering is a sign of weakness. On a recent stop at a Walmart in Wichita, I witnessed several men and women wandering around the store without masks, despite signage placed in multiple entrances clearly stating face coverings were required by city ordinance. Granted, some of them might have been exempt due to some sort of medical condition. But, I doubt it. Unless you count permanent chips attached to their shoulders.
No. 4: In direct correlation to No. 3, employees appear to be reluctant to confront those who choose not to cover their breathing portals. I don’t blame them. I would be too. But, if there is a conspicuously placed placard clearly announcing a mask requirement to enter a place of business, no one should be surprised when her or she is denied access. I have yet to see any store that does not offer free coverings for those who may have inadvertently left them in the parking lot.
There is also the issue of people who, either out of ignorance or obstinacy (“I’ll wear your doggone mask, but I’ll be doggoned if I’ll wear it like you want me to”), fail to place the covering properly across the mouth AND the nose. I have seen them hanging below the chin and sometimes so loose they don’t even stop any of the airflow.
Again, let me point out that if a person would be reminded every single time about the requirement, he or she would be much more likely to comply, if for no other reason than to stop the constant barrage of requests, not to mention the dirty looks. But, again, there is a serious lack of consistency and commitment by the businesses themselves. This should not be left to the employees to enforce, but rather should be the duty of the manager or owner, whoever is on the premises.
So, the bottom line is really quite simple: If we want to keep our schools open; if we want to see fall sports in any form; if we want to continue to eat at restaurants, we have to follow the rules. Period.