Mask deniers will get us killed

Simple life-saving measures rejected out of partisan spite

A health care worker wears a shield and face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday issued a mask mandate for Colorado. He waited too long to take this action, but the “alarming” — his word — COVID-19 uptick in the state finally forced his hand. All Coloradans older than 10 have to wear a mask in public places now. That will make Coloradans, of all ages, safer.

But some Coloradans will die needlessly because of the unforgivable mask-denial perpetrated by certain elected officials. Their science-rejecting, ignorance-indulging, duty-abandoning behavior is perpetuating the pandemic, and it will get people killed.

Polis himself resisted the enactment of a mandate. Such government edicts conflict with his libertarian tendencies. But for weeks he at least preached the life-saving qualities of mask-wearing, and he implored Coloradans to take the simple and effective step of donning a mask.

Many people complied, because they felt a sense of responsibility to their community. And in fact 39 counties and municipalities adopted local mask mandates. Elsewhere, however, an epidemic of partisan know-nothingness infected the conversation. Douglas County commissioners said they would separate from the Tri-County Health Department, of which Douglas County had been a part for more than 50 years, after the department adopted a mask mandate. Protesters in Colorado Springs whined that a mask mandate would be an infringement of “freedom.” Similarly vapid gripes that vaguely invoked some right to “choice” were echoed in hotspots of pandemic politicization throughout the state and country.

Now that the governor has issued an order, the mask deniers are further exposed.

Polis had barely finished announcing the order before Republican state Rep. Patrick Neville, the House minority leader, tweeted, “The Governor is on a power trip and IMO his mask mandate is a clear violation of our civil liberties. I’ve retained counsel with the intent to sue. Stay tuned.” In an apparent reference to the order, Lauren Boebert, the Republican candidate running to represent Colorado’s 3rd congressional district, tweeted, “Government’s job is to inform, not to strip our freedoms away and treat us like wards of the state.” If Boebert believes the government’s job is “to inform,” she might want to bone up on state functions before proceeding with her campaign.

The more troubling responses came from actual law enforcers.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office tweeted a message of defiance shortly after Polis’ briefing: “We will stress that wearing a mask will slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We will not, however, be expending resources of the S.O. on issuing citations to individuals not wearing masks.”

The office of Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams took a similar stance. “We’re not going to be actively policing whether or not people are wearing masks. We just don’t have the resources for that,” said Joe Moylan, spokesperson for the office, according to a story by KDVR. Reams is the same sheriff who vowed not to enforce Colorado’s red flag law. Maybe law enforcement is the wrong line of work for this guy?

COVID-19 is resurgent in Colorado. Rates of infection are up. Hospitalizations are up. Intensive care beds could exceed capacity by September at the current rate of infection. The state must reverse these trends, and masks are a key tool in that effort.

There is little ambiguity anymore on the science of face masks. They work. They save lives. This is not a fringe opinion. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said.

Furthermore, while health experts at first suspected that touch was the primary way the virus spread — remember back in March all the emphasis on hand-washing? — now they have come to believe that respiratory droplets are the main source of transmission. You can’t wash your breath. But you can wear a mask. (And you should still wash your hands.)

The problem is partisan hysterics. The country is so culturally fractured, so incapable of reasoned discussion, so rotten with reactionary madness that simple life-saving measures are rejected out of spite. That’s bad enough when the stakes are taxes or judgeships or impeachment of a president. But in the face of a once-in-a-century global threat to human life, indulgence of political pique is not an option.

Some have questioned the legality of Polis’ mask mandate, and just days ago the governor himself questioned whether such an order was enforceable. There might be a legitimate debate around the legal basis of the mandate, but what’s galling is how the governor’s opponents seized on the order as an occasion to take a political stand when such a posture does so much immediate and grievous harm to Coloradans by opening space for mask denial and blunting the potential for basic health-preserving practices.

Elected officials who behave this way might be champions in their partisan camps. But they betray their primary duty to protect the health and safety of all Coloradans.