Editorial: What to do when someone refuses mask?

The Editorial Advisory Board
Topeka Capital-Journal

Let’s begin with three broad statements.

One: People should wear masks to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Two: While partisanship around mask-wearing has ebbed, some folks still resist wearing them.

Three: You catch more flies with honey that you do with vinegar. (If you have a bit of imagination, you can take those three statements and trace the trajectory of the rest of this editorial, but please stay with us a moment.)

We’ve reached a national consensus as coronavirus cases surge. This is consensus shared by doctors and political leaders of both parties, including President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Everyone needs to wear a mask if you’re around other people — especially if you’re inside a building or can’t socially distance.

But some folks still resist. A few have genuine medical conditions that make mask wearing difficult. Many more suppose erroneously that they do. And others have decided that a libertarian ideology trumps any concern about public health.

Most of us will wear masks. We won’t always be consistent or perfect, but we will try. We understand the need to protect others through our own mask wearing, understanding that some 40% of COVID-19 spread is done by people who are asymptomatic.

But what should we do with these other folks who resist? We’ve seen the YouTube videos of people being confronted and then misbehaving in spectacular ways. We may have seen someone without a mask in a crowded public space and felt the urge to call them out.

How on earth should we approach these situations? What should we do?

There’s likely no single, ideal answer. But anyone who has raised children knows that simply confronting them about misbehavior seldom yields ideal results.

Our own actions — wearing a mask whenever needed — serve as an example. The more of us who do that, every time, in every circumstance, the more we solidify mask-wearing as an essential part of the social contract. We can often make our point simply by doing what’s right.

Retail employees charged with enforcing mandates in stores are put in a difficult situation when a minority of folks ignore signs. We don’t want to tell private businesses what to do, but it’s clear that aggressive confrontation doesn’t produce ideal results.

Polite but firm conversation makes sense. Allowing the occasional maskless person through in the interest of preventing wider disruption may sometimes make sense, too.

We know what needs to be done. We should all be smart about how we get there.