To wear a face mask or not to wear a face mask…that is not the question


July 3, 2020 10:33AM

The debate over wearing face masks has become more political and less as a way to reduce to COVID-19 transmission, especially as the trend grows for cities and states to mandate wearing them in public. Two Tennessee cities joined that list, with Nashville and Memphis instituting mandatory face mask rules in recent weeks.

Let me be clear on a couple of things–I wear a mask when it’s appropriate. I’m not advocating for or against wearing one. I believe in individual liberty and with that liberty comes personal responsibility. Everyone needs to do what is best for themselves and their families when it comes to COVID-19.

The real question is not whether to wear a mask, but rather, what do mask mandates really mean and how are they enforced? In Nashville, the order issued by the Health Department is riddled with exemptions, resulting in the government picking winners and losers, arbitrarily requiring masks in some circumstances or venues and not others. For example, it’s okay for me to go to a bar or a restaurant and not wear a mask, but it’s not okay for me to visit a clothing store without a mask. I don’t need to wear one while walking down the street with my husband, but I do with my mom because we don’t live in the same household (even though we see each other all the time). I can exercise outside without one unless someone comes within six feet of me, but I can’t exercise indoors six feet away from another person. Also, there is a blanket exemption for those who cannot medically tolerate wearing a mask, and they cannot be asked to produce documentation or say why they cannot wear one. It’s hard to find answers that are based in medical science and not politics.

In Memphis, the ordinance is even more confusing. There are nine circumstances listed where you are required to wear a mask, exemptions within those nine requirements, and then some circumstances where it is only recommended, but not required. The requirements in both cities are confusing, contradictory, and difficult for the average citizen to comprehend.

Now let’s talk about enforcement. In an age where society is questioning the need for so many crimes to be on the books and the use of force by police generally, both cities make it a crime to not follow the confusing and contradictory rules. Let me repeat that. They make it a crime. In Memphis, non-compliance is a violation of their public nuisance law and in Nashville, it is a violation of a county public health rule. Both crimes are punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine, or both.

In times of crisis and uncertainty, it is important to be careful of the individual liberties we give up for the appearance of safety. We should be demanding that any rule or regulation related to COVID-19 be consistent, fair, necessary, and temporary. Unfortunately, neither Memphis’ ordinance nor Nashville’s order meet this basic standard.