The Trickery of an Unenforceable Mask Order

An interesting discrepancy can be observed between the way Governor Gina Raimondo’s decree that everybody must wear face masks in public places was reported yesterday and the text of the order itself.

As conveyed through her daily press briefing, Raimondo’s order would require faces to be covered in all public places except for “a solitary walk or bike ride.”  Rather than emphasizing consistency with what many people have already been doing, she amplified her message as if we’re encountering some new period of human existence: “We have to embrace new ways of living our lives.”  Pair that with the threat of civil fines for people who don’t comply, and you’re guaranteed to raise hackles among those Americans who still believe our country is defined by its liberty rather than its collectivist compliance.

In an email that just now arrived in my inbox, our continually self-referential ruler continues that tone:

The only exceptions are for young children and anyone whose health would be negatively impacted by wearing a face covering. The order goes into effect Friday, but I want you to get into the habit of wearing your face covering wherever you go starting now. If you’re outside of your home and around other people, you should be wearing a face covering.

Reading the order itself, however, it appears that the governor (or her PR staff) is not accurately describing its limits.  Consider:

Face coverings are not required for people who can easily, continuously, and measurably maintain at least six (6) feet of distance from other people.

To the extent that rule actually means what it says, it’s a pretty big exception that the governor doesn’t mention very prominently.  Through most of our daily lives, we can “easily, continuously, and measurably maintain at least six feet of distance from other people.”  Only in a very crowded place would this be impossible.

But the specifics have to be answered:  What makes your situation easy, continuous, and measurable?  Who decides?  Does some mask cop hand you a ticket because, even though you’re walking on a largely empty street, some jogger could turn a corner at any moment, or some stranger could decide to violate your space with no warning?  We can’t know until it happens.

Judging from the governor’s rhetoric, we are to assume that we must wear a mask except while on a stroll in the country.  Yet, when people challenge this dictate on social media, the governor’s defenders are likely to chime in and insist that they’re exaggerating the word of the her new law.

The governor’s goal appears to be to give herself maximal flexibility to sound reasonable under the law while making as many people as possible think it’s stronger than it is. It’s trickery to get us to comply with an order the governor does not have the power to enforce… until it turns out that she does have that power because the public has been conditioned to see the targets of penalties as selfish scofflaws who want people to die.

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