When it comes to fighting COVID-19, there’s no contest about what people should do. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. And wear a mask.
Public health experts have been saying as of April, at least, that yes people should wear masks. Gov. Kate Brown recently mandated that people wear masks in indoor public spaces throughout the state.
Enforcement is lax. Gov. Brown doesn’t want local police enforcing masks. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Oregon Occupational Safety and Health are doing some enforcement. Mostly it has fallen to employees in stores and restaurants. That puts a lot of pressure on employees. Unfairly. It would be better if Oregonians didn’t put employees in that position. Please be patient with those employees.
Some people refuse to wear masks. They try to poke holes in the medical/scientific arguments. They don’t buy that the danger from COVID-19 is significant enough. They bristle under what they feel is a challenge to freedom. There’s quarantine fatigue. And some see a mysterious plot.
We don’t have a wondrous argument to convert the unmasked. As economists and psychologists have researched, novelists have written and as we all know, people don’t always make the most logical decisions even with the best information. Besieging your fellow customers in a store with shame or arguments about harm reduction isn’t likely to do it. Leaning into Rawlsian arguments about original position and a veil of ignorance will likely flop, though that would be curious to watch. A good joke can sometimes cut through the bull: Remember, every disaster movie starts with people not listening to a scientist. We doubt that will work, either.
COVID-19 has been the boss. It plundered jobs and businesses. It kicked children out of school. It set off hoarding toilet paper. It has caused us all to rethink what’s more important among important and unimportant things.
And it has also put many of us in an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe position in a store or restaurant. Take the simple step. Do your part. Wear your mask. If you don’t feel safe in a store, go to another or come back later. You shouldn’t have to do that. We don’t want you to have to do that. But, at least for now, it is unfair to expect store or restaurant employees to be expert enforcers of a new public health mandate without more training and some backup.