Point: Russ Ware
To mask or not to mask, that is the question. And who should decide? Should mask-wearing be a purely individual choice — or may private businesses and/or governmental authorities mandate the use of masks within their respective boundaries of reasonable influence? And do these darned things make a difference anyway?
Let’s consider the second question first. Do masks work? The answer depends on when you ask. I well remember the days when the CDC was discouraging mask wearing, to my relief. I didn’t want to wear one, mostly because it just felt strange. I wasn’t ready. And in those early days, I couldn’t imagine my businesses full of mask-adorned patrons. I was an early adopter of the anti-mask position.
And then came stay-at-home orders. Businesses were faced with drastic limitations and shutdowns. “Stuff” got real. Quickly, the social stigma of wearing a mask faded into the big picture. Now it seemed like we should all be doing all the things — anything we could do for safety and to turn around the alarming numbers. I put on the mask and so did my friends and neighbors. Annoying? — sure, but no more stigma. We were all in this together!
Meanwhile, we were finding more clarity on the efficacy of masks, and we were coming to a better understanding of the virus and how masks fit into the big picture of mitigation. There were numerous factors that played into the CDC’s change of direction toward mask advocacy, but significant was a growing understanding of the nature of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19. Now the evidence is in. Masks make a difference. Studies related to respiratory droplets support this conclusion, as do an ever-increasing number of studies in the real world. We have now what we did not have at the beginning — real epidemiological evidence. With greater understanding and new data came a new message. And that’s OK. That’s the way science is supposed to work. And it did. And so do masks.
And that leads us back to the question of who decides. As businesses, we made the decision for our patrons about a month ago. We were watching the numbers, reading the data, and we acted accordingly. While we can’t compel anyone to wear a mask who doesn’t wish to do so, we can disallow participation in our spaces related to that choice. This is the limit of our reasonable influence. We made this choice for our patrons in the interest of safety for our staff, guests and community. But it only goes so far, and this move came with additional work and stress for our staff, now dealing with a small, but steady, number of patrons offended in varying degrees by our decision to make such a requirement.
And that brings me to the state mandate. Given the choice between mandatory shutdowns and stay-at-home orders or the continuation of variances allowing my spaces to remain open with mask-wearing and other safety measures in place, I choose the latter — and because I believe it is in the best interest of our community. Each of us can only do so much alone. But together, even if it takes a state mandate, we can do more. And we must. This is not about government control, or some unreasonable limitation of our individual rights as citizens. This is about “we the people,” within the social contract we share with our duly elected officials (whether we agree on every specific point), accepting the reasonable influence of that leadership for the sake of the collective good. So let us lean in, grab (and wear) our masks, and do this.
Counter: Rebecca Marshall
“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it.” — H.L. Mencken
Last week, Colorado Springs — whose citizens are known for their independent streak — was embroiled in a contentious debate. Local politicians received an earful as citizens shared their thoughts about a mandatory face covering ordinance. As a result, local politicians quickly backed off from the idea. Four days later, Gov. Jared Polis took matters into his hands when he issued a statewide mask requirement. And just like that, our local politicians were off the hook.
Why is a blanket statewide mask mandate a bad idea? It boils down to freedom.
Face covering mandates take away choice from business owners and the business’ employees. Many minimum wage employees are in charge of policing versus serving the public. In recent days, Target, King Soopers, Best Buy, and others established mandatory face covering policies on their own. Costco made the decision to require face coverings months ago — their store, their policy.
Face covering mandates simply don’t work. Many cities in Colorado have requirements in place. Two examples are Boulder and Denver. Both implemented requirements in May, and both cities’ case numbers are climbing. Either masks don’t work, or citizens have had enough of being threatened and have moved on with living their lives.
There is no justification for a mandate. Death rates and hospitalizations rates remain low. There are 273 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state — those patients are in ICU beds, as well as on regular medical floors. According to The American Hospital Directory, there are 8,189 hospital beds in Colorado. A mere 3.33% of available hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 patients will recover at home.
Many early cases went undetected, as testing was not plentiful until mid-May. Now that testing is readily available, and the media promotes panic, the lines at testing centers are long. Of course, cases have risen — there is more testing. Only 9% of Coloradans tested were positive for COVID-19.
A face covering mandate is not enforceable. Law enforcement officers are overburdened. Seven days prior to putting the mandate in place, Gov. Polis stated an order would be unenforceable. Any law or order that cannot be enforced diminishes the legitimacy of government. Why didn’t the governor continue to pursue the route of education instead of the mandate? Handwashing, social distancing, and focusing on keeping our elderly population and other high-risk folks safe would have been a healthier approach.
A face covering mandate ought not be a one size fits all rule. There are 10 counties in Colorado that have fewer than 10 COVID-19 cases. The governor’s order forces all citizens in those counties to wear face coverings.
Government intervention under the guise of safety erodes individual freedoms. Let’s give credit to the individual to assess risk and reward in their lives. The elderly are not the ones who are testing positive — it’s the younger people. Death rates and hospitalizations have decreased. Seniors have been isolating in their homes, as they understand they are susceptible to complications. The government didn’t have to issue an order for them to stay home. They are able to think for themselves.
We need less government intrusion in our lives — not more. Alarmism and empty threats breed distrust and discontent toward the government. This virus will pass. In the meantime, let’s be careful about the trade-offs we’re willing to make in the name of “safety”. Sacrificing freedom to choose, in favor of more government regulation, isn’t the answer.
Russ Ware is part owner of The Wild Goose Meeting House downtown and Good Neighbors Meeting house in the Patty Jewett neighborhood. Rebecca Marshall is an Air Force veteran, 23-year resident of Colorado Springs, mom to three, and co-founder of SpringsTaxpayers.com.