Governments must enforce mask rules

When real lives are at stake, people have a duty. And when the people don’t uphold their duty, it is the duty of the government to make sure they do.

A surreal scene is playing out in small towns across America that are getting overrun by coronavirus.

In Florida, residents of Palm Beach County appeared at a local government hearing to attack their superiors for mandating that they wear masks. One resident said, “Masks are killing people.” Another said, “They want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door.”

Despite the fact that coronavirus cases in the United States are hitting record highs, many Americans still refuse to wear face masks.

At the beginning of the epidemic, most Americans didn’t wear masks because they simply had no experience of wearing masks. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first too, but I got on board quickly when I saw other people wearing them and read the government’s suggestions and orders to do so.

The American government exacerbated the problem in March when they recommended against Americans wearing masks – falsely stating that it would “increase the risk of getting the virus.” By now, experts are recommending wearing masks, but the president is actively discouraging it.

One of the problems was that experts like the U.S. Surgeon General did not recognize how masks provided benefits to the whole population. Masks are not just about preventing the wearer from catching a virus; most importantly, they prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others. Therefore, anyone who doesn’t wear a mask is violating everyone else’s natural rights.

Countries where masks were mandated like China, South Korea, Japan, and even European countries like Austria, had much fewer cases than those countries where mask wearing was not widespread.

Austria became one of the first European countries to mandate masks inside businesses on April 6. Since then, its case load has decreased by over 90%.

Now, American states and towns led by rational leaders are thinking about mandating masks. Sixteen states, including California, Hawaii, Michigan, and the District of Columbia, require people to wear masks in public places, which usually means only inside shops, although the virus can spread outdoors, too, albeit with less frequency.

Many governors, however, have refrained from taking the responsibility to require masks. The issue has become pointlessly controversial in some quarters. There are Trump supporters who oppose mask-wearing because Donald Trump opposes it. There are conspiracy theorists who think that masks attract harmful 5G signals. American politicians are scared of losing reelection and unreasonably deferential to the views of loud, populist minorities. Hence most governors have made mask-wearing optional.

Many reputable businesses, however, have taken the initiative and now require that their customers wear masks. After all, a lot of customers are going to avoid retailers like Whole Foods and Costco if they see too many customers breathing and coughing everywhere.

Airlines have also required that their passengers wear masks. After all, crowding one hundred or so people into a tube and flying across the country is a good way to spread viruses.

People are supposed to wear masks inside the airport, too, but in major airports only about 70% of people are wearing masks inside the terminal. On the airplane, however, the flight attendants are able to enforce mask rules.

One right-wing activist learned that lesson on June 17. On a flight to Tulsa, Oklahoma to see Donald Trump’s inaugural campaign rally, Brandon Straka had his mask off. He falsely claimed that he had a “medical condition” – for which he could not produce a certificate – and was eventually made to leave the flight. Fellow passengers applauded as he walked off.

An overreaction? Hardly. As the U.S. has over 30,000 new cases of coronavirus a day, the U.S. has actually underreacted.

This is a life or death proposition for hundreds of thousands of people – not just on the medical side, but also on the economic and mental health side. Forty million Americans are unemployed, and if they cannot afford future medical bills or daily necessities, their health is also at risk.

The government, businesses, and the people must take actions to decrease the severity of the coronavirus crisis and to save lives. If they do not, they will be responsible for killing people. People who refuse to wear masks are responsible for killing people.

They, too, are responsible for the job losses and depression. Their decision to not wear a mask prolongs the crisis and the economic downturn.

This isn’t a time to show your partisan support of Trump by refusing to wear a mask. Not a time to joke or “troll” people. When real lives are at stake, people have a duty. And when the people don’t uphold their duty, it is the duty of the government to make sure they do.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with