More States Require Masks In Public, But Enforcement Is Uneven Governors and mayors in some regions with rising COVID-19 counts have made masks mandatory in public places. But sometimes their own police refuse to enforce the mask rules.
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More States Require Masks In Public As COVID-19 Spreads, But Enforcement Lags

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More States Require Masks In Public As COVID-19 Spreads, But Enforcement Lags

More States Require Masks In Public As COVID-19 Spreads, But Enforcement Lags

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mask up - that's what a growing number of governors are saying. And they're not just suggesting it. Now more governors are making it mandatory to wear masks to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But as NPR's Brian Mann reports, some local police officials and sheriffs are refusing to enforce the new mask rules.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Over the last couple weeks as COVID-19 cases exploded across the U.S., governors from Kansas to West Virginia set aside the politics of mask-wearing and gave citizens a simple mandate - mask up or else. Here's Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

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GREG ABBOTT: This safe standard requires Texans to wear masks in public spaces.

MANN: In counties with significant coronavirus cases, Abbott said, people could face fines up to $250 if they don't comply. Legal experts generally agree mayors and governors have the legal authority to do this. And the science is clear - masks reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Dr. Mical Raz is a medical historian and physician in Rochester, N.Y.

MICAL RAZ: I think some amount of enforcement is necessary to show that we're serious about this and that we mean it.

MANN: The idea, Raz says, is that enforcement is really about messaging. She points to an example during the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic.

RAZ: In San Francisco in 1918, when there was a mask rule and the mayor was seen not wearing a mask, he was fined. And he had to pay. And I think that's a valuable moment to show that, you know, this rule affects everybody and there are consequences.

MANN: But there's a hitch. Most of the enforcement of mask mandates falls to local police and sheriffs. And across the country, many law enforcement leaders say they just won't do it.

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JASON BRIDGES: I believe in our constitutional rights. I believe in your constitutional rights. And this is borderline infringing on some of those constitutional rights in my belief.

MANN: That is Jason Bridges, sheriff in Nacogdoches County, Texas, speaking in a video he posted on Facebook. Bridges supports voluntary mask-wearing but says his officers won't enforce Governor Abbott's mandate.

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BRIDGES: Keeping up with people who's wearing mask and who's not is not something that we have time to be doing.

MANN: Local police have issued similar public statements in Arizona and in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom threatened this week to withhold up to $2.5 billion in aid to police departments that won't enforce the mask rule.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: If they choose to not do that, we will redirect those dollars to communities that are.

MANN: But enforcing mask mandates won't be easy. This week, outside a convenience store in upstate New York, Brian Nguam acknowledged he broke his state's rules shopping for snacks without a mask.

BRIAN NGUAM: I don't really care. I'm sorry. But I honestly don't see the point.

MANN: Like, what if you were to get somebody else sick? Would that bum you out?

NGUAM: I'd feel bad.

MANN: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has publicly scolded local police who've mostly declined to ticket people who don't wear masks. Without enforcement, businesses are often left to decide how and when to confront customers who don't comply. Retailers and a chamber of commerce in Maine are running this public service announcement.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If we all wear masks, we're all going to stay healthy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: How are you doing today?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Please don't get upset with our people. They're just doing their job, and they're trying to make it safe for you.

MANN: This week, a retail industry group published a public letter calling for all states to impose mask requirements and enforce them.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

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