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Support reopening? Mask up

One thing that is clear about the mandatory face mask order that Gov. Roy Cooper imposed on June 26: Nothing is clear.


Hendersonville Lightning news reports, a turbulent Hendersonville City Council discussion and wildly disparate patterns of public behavior all underscore that no one has a clear answer as to how — or even if — authorities can enforce the mandate.
Public Health Director Steve Smith told the Lightning even before the order went into effect that complaints about face mask and social distancing violations are the most common complaints the county receives. When the department receives those complaints, it follows up and urges businesses to comply. But there’s precious little in the way of enforcement tools, least of all a heavy hammer.
Sheriff Lowell Griffin cited the order itself when he announced that deputies will not be issuing citations or making arrests. “Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this Executive Order against individual workers, customers or patrons,” the order says.
On Thursday night, the City Council further muddied the turbid pool when it clawed into the question of enforcement. Lyndsey Simpson and Jerry Smith strongly favored a crackdown on businesses that openly ignore (or even encourage) face mask violations and Mayor Barbara Volk agreed. Jennifer Hensley and Jeff Miller opposed police action to ticket business owners who flout the law. When asked how the city could enforce the order, City Attorney Sam Fritschner sayeth thus: “The executive order permits local government to enforce the executive order with criminal citations only against business owners that do not comply with the executive order and there are exceptions so in certain circumstances they can and in certain circumstances they can’t.”
The more important question is whether the government, local or otherwise, has any obligation to ensure that its constituents — the regular walkin’ around folk and the business owners — obey the rules on face masks, social distancing and careful sanitizing. Hensley believes it does not.
“This is just a really heavy-handed approach that I cannot support at all,” she said.
Simpson, Smith and Volk all argued that to give willful violators a pass for disregarding a public health-based order intended to protect their own employees and their patrons is unfair to the large majority of business owners who are responsibly adhering to the law. Hensley cited businesses “hanging by a thread,” as if their economic hardship exempts them from the law. Those complying are in just as fragile a boat.
Hensley’s argument was heartfelt, strongly worded — and wrong. If she is worried about the state of the economy, and specifically the businesses teetering on collapse, she should examine more closely the science and public health reasons for the governor’s executive order. The pro-business position — the only one that has a chance of reopening the economy — is to support, not oppose, face masks and social distancing. And to support means to enforce.