States are toughening up measures to control COVID-19 by imposing fines on people who do not wear masks in public.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order on July 10 making it a misdemeanor not to wear a facial covering in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces. Violators are subject to a $500 fine. Businesses are required to enforce the order or risk license suspension.
On July 1, New Mexico began imposing a $100 fine for not wearing a face covering in public. Hawaii has required masks for customers of essential businesses and employees who have contact with customers since April 17. Violations could result in a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
Other states have left it up to local governments to determine whether and how to enforce face-covering mandates. In California, Gov. Gavin Newson ordered face coverings in public weeks ago, without authorizing fines or jail time. Some California cities, such as West Hollywood, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Monterey, have started to fine individuals for not wearing face coverings. Santa Monica imposes fines on an increasing scale starting at $100 for not wearing a face covering or complying with social distancing.
Gov. Whitmer’s order requires businesses to refuse service and deny entry to any customer without a face covering and to post signs informing customers of their obligation to wear masks. Businesses that fail to comply can have their licenses suspended.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), says he is concerned about the financial burden the order puts on people and businesses struggling in the current economic climate.
“Gov. Whitmer’s order requires businesses to refuse service and completely deny entry to a customer without a face covering and to post signs informing customers of their obligation to wear face coverings,” said Shirkey. “If businesses fail to comply, their license to operate will be temporarily suspended. Shifting the burden of mask enforcement to local businesses and police departments creates even more of a burden on businesses and public services that have suffered during the COVID-19 lockdowns.”
Mask fines also allow governments to shirk responsibility and put the onus on the public, says Marilyn Singleton, M.D., an anesthesiologist and past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
“Politically, if governors are tough on ‘crime,’ if infections increase it will be the people’s fault, not government policies or the natural history of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Singleton.
Questions Value of Masks
Public health experts have changed guidance over the months regarding masks. There is still debate over the effectiveness of masks in slowing down the progress of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, says Singleton.
“Studies show nonmedical masks do not stop aerosolized droplets of less than 2.5 microns,” said Singleton. “An impressive number of scientists from multiple disciplines have recently agreed that SARS-CoV-2 is spread by such small droplets. They recommend improving indoor ventilation infection controls as the key protective measure. Handwashing and social distancing, but not masks, were advised.”
Kelsey Hackem, J.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from the state of Washington.