Without consequences, it’s another ineffectual plea for compliance.
The mayor of Fargo, N.D., has issued a mask “mandate” to curb the spread of coronavirus.
This should be cause for celebration for people like me who have been pushing for a mask mandate since late April. It would be, except –
I’m afraid I can’t give Mayor Tim Mahoney credit for doing… exactly what he’s already been doing for months.
The mandate is essentially a continuation of the city’s approach throughout the pandemic – passionately encourage people to be responsible, strongly recommend wearing masks in public, put out fervent pleas to do the right thing. It’s the “Larry, Darryl and Darryl” approach to slowing the spread of coronavirus, with those entertaining, friendly and well-meaning but not too bright neighbors of “Newhart” fame holding the keys to our safety.
It’s a tragically ineffectual approach, as this city and state have now proven. Sadly, we simply cannot rely on our neighbors to do what’s honorable and necessary.
Furthermore, the mandate is just another toothless recommendation. As it clearly states, “Although these measures are being mandated with the strongest recommendation, there is no penalty for non-compliance….” That’s a contradiction in terms. A recommendation is not a mandate; while the former implies a choice to comply, the latter does not, at least not without consequences.
So what Fargo really needs is a true mandate with penalties for non-compliance, not to mention fewer exceptions.
As it is, the proclamation is full of fissures broad enough for a coronavirus truck to blow through. There are exceptions for when masks are “inhibitory” to “safely and effectively” doing a job, when a person is engaged in athletics and when eating, drinking or worshipping. It discusses whether people need to wear masks when they are within 6 feet of others and when that “distance is not achievable.” However, mask wearing, physical distancing and disinfecting need to be done in conjunction. Even when wearing a mask, being within six feet of an infected person can lead to transmission, for example.
As I’ve written before, all it takes is one.
One person. One interaction. One chance meeting. One sneeze hanging in the air. One breath. One coronavirus infection. One badass case of COVID-19. One more potential death.
In fairness, it’s possible the mandate will finally cause people to do the right thing, wear masks in public. But I wouldn’t bet the lives of Larry, Darryl and Darryl on it.
Nor should the city bet the freedom of its citizens on it.
When it comes to freedom (a.k.a. liberty), the anti-maskers have it backwards. Freedom does not confer the right to act or fail to act in ways that can harm others. In other words, Fargo citizens’ freedom to live safely outweighs what anti-maskers seem to believe is their freedom to put cashiers, coworkers and neighbors in danger by not wearing masks.
Regardless, a government’s responsibility is to protect all its citizens, even if some of them don’t believe in the means.
Regrettably, this “mandate” falls short as yet another plea for caring and prudence that are in short supply.
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A version of this post appeared on inforum.com.
Barry Kemp and Sheldon Bull created the characters Larry, Darryl and Darryl for the hit CBS comedy “Newhart.”