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Fine ‘Em!


Among the many ways that our nation has failed in its COVID response is not using the government to make masks mandatory. And the only way to do that–fine the violators and then fine them again if they continue to not wear the masks.

Instead of flashy protests and confrontations, however, mask supporters are expressing their exasperation in quieter ways, writing letters to local newspapers, posting on social media, patronizing businesses identified as mask-enforcers on dedicated Facebook groups and urging state and local officials to mandate mask-wearing in public.

So far, 34 states and the District have adopted mask requirements. Now, mask advocates want police to enforce those orders, a move some police chiefs have said they are reluctant to make. They are seeking legal protection for retail workers put in the awkward position of enforcing mask rules. And they are lobbying for a coordinated federal mask policy.

“People who are for masks are riled up,” said Henry Karp, 70, a retired rabbi in Davenport, Iowa, with “one fully operational lung.” But, Karp said, “you’re not going to see us gathering on the steps of state capitols with semiautomatic weapons for the same reason we’re wearing masks — we want to stay safe.”

That’s exactly what David Canepa wants to do. Canepa, who serves on the board of supervisors in northern California’s San Mateo County, said he has heard enough from science-deniers, especially in light of new evidence showing that masks appear to protect the wearer as well as people who might breathe in their exhalations.

“People need to rely on the science and not on their high school buddy who took science with them,” Canepa said. “I didn’t get into elective office to tell people what to do, but this is a health emergency, and we have a silent majority that’s doing the right thing. We’ve done the education, we’ve tried to work collaboratively. Now we need to enforce.”

Earlier this month, San Mateo’s board voted unanimously to fine anyone found in public places without a mask. Police, park rangers, building inspectors and other county workers will hand out both masks and summonses. Fines are $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for further transgressions.

“Small business owners don’t want to confront customers. I understand: We’ve all seen those ugly confrontations on YouTube,” Canepa said. “Now we’re giving them a way to say, ‘Hey, it’s the county making me do this. If I don’t enforce it, they’ll fine me.’”

It is ridiculous to ask retail workers or employers to enforce this. They don’t have the ability to do this, especially in the face of crazy people who in this nation are often armed. It is a job for the police. If this flies in the face of anti-policing activists, with whom I am highly sympathetic, well, this gets to the point of the contradictions between slogan and policy. Of course, many of the cops are also anti-mask fascists, so it probably won’t help to create a system of fines. But it’s really the only way to enforce this.

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