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What is the point in a mask mandate which won’t be enforced?

The numbers on Covid-19 – outside of care homes, at least – continue to be positive in Minnesota. Both deaths and hospitalizations are coming in far below what the state’s much vaunted model said they would be. Even so, Gov. Walz is considering imposing a mask mandate on the state. MPR News reports:

While he didn’t give an indication on when he’d decide, the governor said such a move would offer public health benefits while helping businesses that’re struggling to enforce their own mask rules.

Walz’s argument: “If you are for the economy opening up and for the state to take away some of the limitations on your businesses, the surest way to do that is to wear a mask,” he said.

Anything that allows the state’s economy to reopen while remaining vigilant in the fight against Covid-19 is to be welcomed. It seems that wearing masks does help slow the spread of the disease and I wear one myself for that reason. But there are a number of reasons to think that a mask mandate would be a very bad idea indeed.

Metro Transit’s face mask edict is routinely ignored

From May 17th, Metro Transit has required passengers aboard buses and trains to wear face coverings. As the Star Tribune reported:

Metro Transit said it will “enforce” the edict by displaying the requirement on its website, on board vehicles and at stations and bus stops.

Compliance remains voluntary. No one will be fined or denied service if they fail to wear a mask, said Metro Transit Spokesman Howie Padilla.

Metro Transit, which began encouraging face coverings in April, said the requirement will remain in place until further notice. The transit agency said it may take additional steps if there is “ongoing, widespread noncompliance,” though it didn’t elaborate on what those steps might entail.

My experience of both the light rail and buses since the edict came in is that noncompliance is both ongoing and widespread. Yet nothing whatsoever is done about that. Mask wearing remains effectively voluntary despite this edict.

Would it be different with a statewide mandate? Gov. Walz likes to talk tough. On Monday he threatened to get tougher with bars flouting state Covid-19 rules, saying: “at some point in time, the carrot turns to the stick to stop this type of thing.”

But talk is cheap. Recall how, after three nights of rioting, he took control and said “You won’t see that tonight. There will be no lack of leadership and there will be no lack of response on the table.” Then recall how he took no action to enforce his curfew that night, riots erupted again, and he was reduced to going on TV at 1:30 in the morning to beg protesters to go home. Gov. Walz’ ‘stick’ might not amount to very much.

Do you belong to the Minnesota Gov. Walz likes?

We can’t be certain that Gov. Walz would actually enforce a mandate even if he should impose one. As I wrote recently:

You might remember how, a couple of weeks ago, Kris Schiffler, owner of Shady’s Hometown Tavern in Albany, announced plans to reopen his bar in defiance of Gov. Walz’ anti-Covid-19 measures. You might also remember how state Attorney General Keith Ellison descended on Mr. Schiffler with lightning speed and the full force of the state government, saying: “My office has the duty to enforce the law and the Governor’s order.”

Gov. Walz likes to talk about ‘One Minnesota’ but when it comes to who the law gets applied to, it seems that there are two very distinct Minnesotas. There is the Minnesota of Mr. Schiffler, where the state will steamroll you if you step out of line. Then there is the Minnesota of the protesters, attendees at certain events the politicians want to show up to, and the mob who tore down the Columbus statue. The laws don’t apply to them.

It seems likely that a mandate wouldn’t be enforced if you belong to the ‘One Minnesota’ Gov. Walz likes. If you belong to other, you could be in trouble. The ‘stick’ – unimpressive at the best of times – is selectively deployed.

Do we really want to massively increase police/civilian interactions right now?

Who does Gov. Walz think is going to enforce a mask mandate? It will the cops, the same cops that alot of his fellow DFLers want to get rid of. This raises a couple of questions.

First, if his comrades get their way, how are we going to enforce the mandate without the police? Will citizens have the right to detain people who flout the mandate? How do we think that is going to work out?

Second, assuming the police aren’t abolished and are tasked with enforcing this mandate, do we really think it is wise, in the current climate, to drastically increase the instances of police apprehensions of civilians for a relatively minor offence? Surely this is a recipe for disaster.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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