As cases of COVID-19 spike in many locations, the Laramie City Council has discussed plans to pass a resolution asking Albany County to work with the State of Wyoming to make the wearing of protective face coverings mandatory in businesses and many public areas.
This may seem convoluted as opposed to simply passing a law requiring the use of masks, but with health orders, inspections and regulations typically the purview of county governments in Wyoming, there is some logic in Laramie’s approach.
The City Council in Jackson, WY took a direct approach, however, by enacting a mask ordinance just before the holiday weekend.
While public health experts and most doctors urge people to wear masks to help slow the spread of the virus, the nationwide backdrop has made this choice one of political leaning.
We certainly agree that wearing face masks is a prudent decision. It is also such a minor inconvenience to protect one another. Enacting an ordinance or imposing fines, though, might not be the most effective way of accomplishing the desired result.
The ordinance in Jackson was created because of requests from business owners who said that their attempts to enforce mask use by customers had resulted in verbal abuse of their employees. We continue to emphasize the importance of civility between individuals whether or not they choose to wear a mask, but the law is clear that a private business owner has the right to require a customer to wear a mask. Certainly, we applaud the businesses that are doing everything they can to keep their employees and customers safe.
Putting employees on the front line of this argument, though, will undoubtedly be problematic. Some may not be adequately equipped to deal with potential confrontations and aggressive behavior. They also have little recourse if the customer refuses to comply. Somehow it is hard to picture a law enforcement officer responding to complaints, making arrests or issuing citations, unless the situation escalates. At least city and county officials are working to develop protocol for enforcement, but we still have our doubts. Consider the current health orders and how often you’ve seen businesses in violation. A specific ordinance, though, would make expectations for wearing masks clear.
We also wonder whether making this a matter of law could be a barrier to the current understanding and cooperative nature of most people. Would there be more potential for confrontations in stores or in other public settings? We would hate to see anything that smacks of vigilante enforcement by well-meaning mask advocates.
While wearing masks has been proven to reduce the spread of this disease, civility, maintaining physical distance, hygiene and caring about others are still critical. Would resentment about such an ordinance become a barrier to these other safeguards?
It may seem naive, but we believe that the most effective way to make mask use as universal as possible is through education and appealing to people’s better instincts. Even if the use of masks were mandatory, education would have to continue.
We really have no quarrel with those who would make masks mandatory in public settings, but before adding new legal solutions, we would prefer to see the current ones enforced. Efforts should also be made to encourage businesses to require masks on their own. It is quite a statement for a potential customer to walk out of an establishment because they are not following a health order or not requiring that masks be worn.
And if mask wearing does become a matter of law, then let’s make darn sure we answer the question of how this ordinance will be enforced.