Editorial: Mask wearing and America’s terrible birthday party

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Hopefully you haven’t become confused and placed your political yard sign on your face and your face mask in your yard. It seems to be an easy mistake to make these days.

Come to find out, they really aren’t the same thing.

Even people who like the president are stating plainly that masks should be worn. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — he has no reason to dislike the president, right? — recently said simply: “Everyone should wear a damn mask.”

Everybody should, but everybody won’t. Even people who understand their importance don’t always wear them to the degree that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we should. As a reminder, the CDC’s guidance is to wear them “in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

That language is just broad enough that it allows all of us to become amateur attorneys and put our parsing skills to work. Unfortunately, what probably needs to happen is for professional interpreters of the law to step in and save us from ourselves.

It is time for police officers to begin monitoring for unmasked individuals just like they monitor for speeders.

Unlike their speed checks, police officers won’t be able to sit along the side of a road to do their work. It would require them walking around through crowded spaces open to the public. Yes, that might mean a police officer walking around a grocery store or a discount retailer or any number of other businesses where crowds may be. Officers would have a ticket book, but also could have a box of masks. As they encounter someone not wearing a mask, they could give them a warning, but more importantly give them a mask. In a few weeks, the warnings may end and the tickets would begin, but hopefully there would be far fewer of them to write.

It does all sound uncomfortable, but surely we are getting used to that routine. There are many who would rather live with uncomfortable than disingenuous. If public health officials create these mask mandates and then do nothing to enforce them, it will come off as disingenuous. Yes, we understand that public health officials want people to simply and voluntarily do the right thing. It is a nice thought, but it also may be a sign that those officials understand health better than they do human nature. Many people simply will do the right thing, but there are always some who won’t. If you let those who won’t do so with impunity, it muddies the message for everybody else.

In time, masking wearing would become more commonplace. Some of the people not wearing them today would relent as societal pressure grows. Think back to the time when smoking indoors in public places was banned. In the beginning, there were people who flouted that law. Today, you see far less of that. Time has helped correct that problem.

They say that time does heal all wounds, but how true is that, especially in a pandemic? How much time do we have to allow attitudes to simply change on their own?

But we shouldn’t place all the responsibility on law enforcement. Go back to the smoking analogy for a moment. If you are a business owner and you would have no problem today telling a patron he must leave if he insists on smoking, why will you not tell an unmasked patron the same? If you are a patron who wouldn’t think of smoking in a no-smoking establishment, why would you go into a business without a mask?

We all could benefit from doing some deeper thinking on this issue. Perhaps thinking about the Independence Day that just passed will help. How many of us when this pandemic began planned to throw a massive July 4th party to celebrate the end of this lockdown culture?

It didn’t happen — or shouldn’t have — because the pandemic still rages. Hopefully we did find a way to celebrate our nation’s founding because it is still worthy of reverence. But by any measure, it was a terrible birthday party.

Let’s vow that July 4, 2020, was the worst birthday party in our lifetimes. To do that, though, we have to think about what to do today to make tomorrow better. A place to start: Put the party hats down and put the damn masks on.


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