Coronavirus

Wearing a mask alone in public defies science

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Science, science science. It’s all about the science. Is it really, though?

From the start of the pandemic to where we are today, how many times has Governor Janet Mills issued “guidance” or mandates that defy, or seemingly contradict, science? In this regard, Mills struck gold on Thursday with her latest order on face coverings in public.

The governor’s newest edict requires Mainers to wear a face covering in public settings no matter the physical distance between them and other people. “Public settings” is defined as indoor spaces that are accessible to the public, including (but not limited to) restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, health care facilities, social clubs, auditoriums, theaters, stadiums, arenas, concert halls, places of worship, gymnasiums, rinks, fitness centers and more.

Fortunately for the governor, many of these establishments have not reopened or have permanently closed due to her unscientific lockdown and economic recovery plan, so enforcement of masks in auditoriums, stadiums, theaters and concert halls shouldn’t be an issue.

But the “public setting” definition also includes outdoor spaces like playgrounds, parking lots, sidewalks, athletic and sports venues, public transportation settings such as taxis and busses, as well as portions of municipal, county, state and private buildings accessible to the public, including parking lots, walkways, lobbies, waiting areas, elevators, service desks and hallways.

What is the science behind wearing a mask while walking your dog alone in a park or on a sidewalk? There is none. The governor has offered no scientific data as the foundation of this order, and the media hasn’t asked her to reveal as much. Is a scientific reason too much to ask for? Which public health expert or scientific research recommends this change?

In addition, the order requires the owner and operators of all indoor establishments to post “plainly visible signs notifying entrants of the requirement to wear cloth face coverings, and may deny service or entry for non-compliance.” Before the governor updated the mask order, only certain businesses, like large retail establishments, were responsible for requiring customers to wear masks.

“We have recorded yet another day of record high case numbers,” Gov. Mills said in a statement. “This deadly and dangerous virus is spreading all across our state. Protect your family. Protect a health care worker. Protect the elderly. Wear your face covering. Save lives. It is that simple.”

It’s not that simple, though. What will the state do to someone who is not wearing a mask while walking alone on a sidewalk? What does the enforcement of this order look like to Governor Mills and the administration? Will the police be out on the street enforcing the mask mandate instead of stopping actual crime? While we’re at it, is there anything else the governor can do to make lawbreakers out of ordinary, law-abiding citizens who are going about their regular business?

Have you, like me, seen people wearing a mask while driving alone in their vehicle? That’s what Governor Mills wants us to be – irrationally fearful, to the point where we’ll do anything the state asks of us.

Are there instances when wearing a face covering makes sense in public and private settings? Of course. Is being alone one of those instances? Absolutely not.

Provided the governor continues to issue mandates without offering credible scientific evidence of their necessity, cooperation with public health guidance will become a mixed bag. People aren’t stupid. They know when it’s appropriate to wear a mask and when it’s not. We know far more about this virus than we knew eight months ago, yet the governor keeps acting like it’s the great unknown.

Pretending the virus affects everyone the same, or that everyone is at risk of a severe case if they contract the virus, simply will not result in greater cooperation with public health orders.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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