No mask? Call the cops.

It would be a fine thing

The Sangamon County jail, the county coroner and the Springfield City Council. Too many bars and restaurants to recall.

All have been touched by COVID-19 since we celebrated Independence Day. With cases popping up all around like so many mushrooms, it is beyond time to get serious.

We're breaking the wrong kind of records, with 49 positive tests in Sangamon County on a single day last week and more than 1,000 cases since we started keeping track in March. We were down to virtually none two months ago, when businesses began reopening and we all promised to be good so that we wouldn't end up where we are now: Faced with shutting down again. No one's died, lately, but just wait. If we keep going on like this, someone, maybe more than one someone, will.

It's time to just say no to covidiots, who've been allowed to blather about freedom while waving flags and declaring that their kids were born with the right to not wear masks at school. Polls show that about 10% of Americans object to masks, which is plenty enough folks to get the rest of us sick. Illinois teachers last week laid down a marker: We'll strike if we don't feel safe. And who could blame teachers for not feeling safe?

I've watched public officials urge folks to wear masks while not wearing masks themselves, and I've been to Walmart, where the sign on the door says masks required, but covidiots wander aisles maskless, with maskless kids more or less in tow. Up north, a Galena campground where I spent a night last month had a "Masks Are Not Needed" sign on the door. Offices have reopened even as we've grown lax about social distancing and even though folks have shown that working from home is workable. Office workers are getting sick, with four cases reported in the same division at the Illinois Department of Revenue last week and the state Board of Elections shut down until tomorrow after positive tests there.

On Monday, I spent the better part of an hour less than coffin-length from other reporters in a cramped Illinois Emergency Management Agency conference room while Gov. JB Pritzker announced a $5 million advertising campaign aimed at getting folks to wear masks. I got one question in. Instead of asking whether he'd buy a car from Mike Madigan, I asked the governor why not fine people who won't wear masks? He cracked the door a teensy bit, saying maybe locals could consider that, but he's not keen on tickets.

We've lost too many lives and too many businesses to keep going on like this. If you're a public official, it's about setting a good example: Unless it's a gym, hold press conferences outside and put a mask over your piehole – and nose – in public unless you're talking or eating. And it is time for the maskless to pay.

In Florida, Miami police started issuing $100 fines two weeks ago, with at least 140 people ticketed so far. San Francisco, where the Anti-Mask League was born a century ago when the city instituted fines during the Spanish flu pandemic, is going slower but still has issued a few dozen citations after pleading for voluntary compliance. A survey by The Harris Poll and Harvard University released last week showed that 79 percent of voters favor a nationwide mask requirement, with 70 percent saying that scofflaws should be fined.

Starting this weekend, the city says it will issue $500 citations to bars and restaurants if customers are found without masks while not seated, and assigned seating will be mandatory. Last weekend, the county health department fined a couple places. These are good steps that don't go far enough.

If a bar has to pay a fine, so, too, should customers. And not just in bars. The maskless are easy to spot, and so start fining them, wherever they might be. We don't think twice about DUI roadblocks or sting operations aimed at curbing underage drinking and smoking, so we shouldn't pause at sending spotters into stores to find shoppers without masks so that cops can write tickets in parking lots as they emerge. Either wear a mask, properly, or pay up.

Seatbelts have been mandatory in Illinois since 1985, and the law works: Folks now buckle up out of habit, but they didn't start in earnest until they faced fines. How is this any different? As with moving violations, cops would have discretion — just because you get pulled over doesn't mean you'll get a ticket – so I'm not much worried about getting cited while walking Champ the Wonder Pug through Oak Ridge Cemetery with nobody near.

If we expect businesses to be the mask police and we fine those that fail, we, also, should help those businesses by getting the real police involved so that wearing masks becomes second nature. It seems only fair. And healthy.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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