As we’ve all watched this pandemic unfold over time, it’s become increasingly clear that steps must be taken to limit the spread of the virus because there’s no viable vaccine yet. We need to limit the spread so as not to overwhelm the health care system.

None of this is new. There are people who argue about its effectiveness, but it’s not new information.

What has become increasingly clear, and perhaps brought about by the stunningly lax approach most of the federal government has taken, is that people – and mostly companies – are unwilling to simply require people to take these steps.

Walking through any shopping area or grocery store, many times you see signs “encouraging” people to wear masks. In areas where local governments have stepped in to “require” face coverings1, they’re mostly half-hearted measures for the appearance of having done something rather than actually requiring something to cover one’s face.

For example, Publix has required its employees wear face masks but were quite late to the game. Even before local governments “required” face masks, Publix would not require their customers or even request that they wear one. Now that local government mandates are in effect in many areas, they’re still not actively enforcing it.

Some companies, on the other hand, have taken a stronger approach. Apple, for example, requires customers and employees wear masks at all times. It is strictly enforced, and if people choose not to comply, they are asked politely to leave and shop in other ways like the online store.

Why do some companies take a meager approach whereas others take a stronger approach? I think there’s a general fear of backlash, but I do think it’s unfounded.

Take the case of AMC theaters. They had originally stated when they reopened that people would not be required to wear masks upon entering their theaters. There was tremendous public pressure, however, and AMC quickly walked that back stating they would require people to wear masks.

There will always be people who balk at rules, no matter how well intentioned they may be. People, however, actually like having rules and order…so long as they’re enforced equally.

If every company banded together and said, “Listen, we want you to spend money with us, but you need to do so with concern for everyone’s safety. We require that you wear a mask in our store/theater/etc,” people would perhaps squawk at first, but would quickly get over it.

  1. Local governments like Tampa and St Pete have adopted rules requiring face coverings in the cities and surrounding counties, but there’s little clarity for enforcement. In most cases, it’s up to the company where a person is shopping or dining to enforce the rule. The company gets fined if it’s in violation, not the person.

    While I understand it’s impossible to police everywhere to enforce this, I think random sampling and fines for individuals who are actively sacrificing public health are more important.

    There are also loopholes such as, “If one has a medical condition or breathing condition that makes mask wearing impossible or difficult, they are exempt.” Well, I find that anyone who just doesn’t want to wear a mask could utter the phrase, “I have a health condition that means I can’t wear a mask,” and HIPAA laws mean there’s no way to suss out what’s truthful and what’s not.

    If you have such a condition, perhaps being out in public in the middle of a pandemic by a respiratory virus is not the brightest idea. Order in or have friends and family deliver your stuff to you.