As I was penning this piece, we learned that Governor Gavin Newsom has rolled back the opening of the state. Indoor dining, bars, gyms, movie theaters, and most religious services are ordered to close down.
Cases are going up all around us. The data is clear, whether you are getting it from your local county, or you get it from the news, or the John Hopkins The one place we cannot rely on is the White House. We have the happy talk, for the most part. All is well, don’t look to the data. This is a problem, and the chief mask slacker finally donned one, because he was forced to. We are not alone. This is also happening in Mexico and Brazil, where their populist leaders are also attacking any qualified individual, who is going against the vein of the happy story told by the White House.
We need to face this as well. We need to enforce things like mask-wearing at the local level. Why? Some people are still not getting it, and refuse to wear a mask on ideological or political reasons. So here is a question. When will people get it? If we are to judge from the history of other mandates, not until we start fining people. We are well beyond the point of education, which all new mandates have early on. We have a very recent example of what is happening on the ground. We went to the farmers market on Sunday and we met a lady not wearing a mask. But we also came face to face with one of the problems. Lack of enforcement of a mask mandate, which makes it worthless. Humans are by their very nature conflict-averse. So asking people to leave any space is hard, even for business owners. We also know some people have thrown tantrums. Some have taken out weapons and become threats to people in spaces. California is not an open-carry state. But some people do have concealed carry and may be armed. We are at the point where people have to balance their immediate safety by asking a person to leave, or enforcing the rules.
The market was not full, because they are controlling the number of people coming in. This control point, in theory, includes mask-wearing and there is a mask vendor right before the entry. There is a statewide mask mandate. This is not complicated. However, this is not being enforced given the woman was not wearing a mask when walking in. Yes, the market could expel this person from the market. No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service. Given there is a mandate, she could be asked to either buy a mask and use it, or leave. Instead, there was a conversation, and that was the extent of it.
We need to enforce these mandates. Why? It’s the data. Mask is one of the simplest tools to reduce the spread and has to be over ninety percent. This is not a minor thing. At the market, we were at that range, but that is not the point. As a society, we know that we will not control the spread of the disease unless we do some basic things. We need social distance and we need to wear masks. It’s physics, its science and it is being a good community member. Shaming mask slackers will not work. They are beyond shame, and psychology is clear. It doesn’t work. People tend to dig their heels when confronted. But fining them will. We know because mask slackers were at one-time seat belt slackers. They finally got it after the fines came and they started to get tickets, they decided to wear them. This is the libertarian mindset that is prevalent in the country. It is also part of the populist moment where authorities are not worth listening to. We are well beyond cuddling them or trying to educate them.
So what happens if we effectively make this optional? Lack of enforcement does bring this problem. It is essentially optional. Well, we are experiencing the effects right now. We are having to scale back reopening the economy (and it is a good question if things like bars should reopen until we have a vaccine). Partly this is happening because younger people got the message that the disease was not going to affect them, and crammed into bars without masks, but now we have increasing cases.
There are consequences to this. Opening the economy and closing back down, and opening back again will increase fear of the disease. People will not go out beyond the essentials. Full disclosure, we are not venturing beyond essentials. This will lead to a contraction of the economy, and this is not a minor thing. So this is why enforcing this has to happen. This is the most effective way to slow down community spread. You and I need to stay away from each other. We need to mask up and wash hands.
So we need to start getting serious about giving people fines. And it is not just the market. But there is that issue of enforcement and policing. This tends to happen with greater intensity in places where People of Color congregate, not in whiter areas of town. We are observing this resistance to health orders in other areas where the risk of disease and death is perceived to be lower. There are many reasons why this is the case, but enforcement has to happen in these areas, which tend to be both whiter and wealthier.
Let’s be clear. We are having this issue where I live as well. This is a nice condo development, however, many of the residents refuse to wear masks when they leave their four walls and enter public spaces. These are the common areas, and the worst offenders are people who should know better. These are the older residents who are at greater risk. Perhaps it’s an attitude if I am going to go, why do a thing? Well, death from COIVID is not precisely nice. We also have younger people who are mask-less, partly because they have received the message that if you are young you will be fine. That is not necessarily the case. and young people still get it, die from it, or have major lifetime effects.
The worst among my neighbors are the people who ride elevators mask free. These are so dangerous that I chose to take the stairs as often as I can. Granted, it is also exercise, but this is not good. Let’s be clear about masks. Given what COVID is, this is respect to others and living in society. This is not a political statement. In many cases, mask slackers also live in a bubble that thinks people are trying to damage the president and ruin his chances of reelection. He is doing a fine job in that respect. He is showing a frightening lack of leadership abilities and denial of reality has consequences. But at this point, we need to stop coddling those who still believe this is a hoax.
So here is what I would like to see.
If you are in a building development the HOA must post signs everywhere that masks are required in the public areas. This is especially the case in elevators. I take the stairs often where I live since many of my neighbors refuse to wear one since they are at home I suppose. Being in public is anywhere outside your unit. Outside, carry one if you do not want to wear it, and just put it on if people get close to you. I know some people will resist, but we are all social animals and we need to remind people that this is a collective effort. And those who refuse must be shunned.
As I said above, we need to see ticketing by police officers. The time to educate people is over. It is time to enforce this, or these mandates have no teeth and are useless. Yes, the market where I went last Sunday must have an officer present to ticket mask slackers, whether they are in the market proper or on the street it matters little. And those who run the market must deny entry to anybody who refuses to wear a mask. It is not an argument, it is a state mandate.
Literally, this is no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.