‘You could literally kill someone’: Masks become a new COVID-19 battleground

J. Brady Mccollough
Los Angeles Times

In the bustling college town of Stillwater, Oklahoma, residents are allowed to visit restaurants and retailers — freedoms that most of the country does not currently enjoy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet when the city issued an emergency proclamation Friday that required citizens to wear face coverings, store employees were “threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse,” according to a statement released by the city. In response, Stillwater quickly amended its wording to only “encourage” use of masks.

“This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings help contain the spread of COVID-19,” Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement. “Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view.”

About a dozen states have reopened more of their economies since Friday’s calendar turn to May, with several, including Florida, loosening more restrictions Monday. No matter where a state falls on the reopening spectrum, though, all Americans who choose to go outside are being met with a choice that isn’t going away anytime soon: to cover up or not?

‘Offensive’: In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine backtracked last week on an order to require face masks be worn in stores as too many Ohioans found it “offensive.”

“It became clear to me that was just a bridge too far. People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do,” DeWine said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

In Miami, many parks that had been closed for six weeks were reopened to the public last week but only with the mandatory use of masks. By the end of the weekend, more than 8,000 warnings were handed out for not using a face cover, prompting the city to close the popular South Pointe Park again Monday.

New Jersey opened its parks Saturday, and although Gov. Phil Murphy was pleased overall with the social distancing compliance shown by the population, he shared one major complaint Monday.

“Not enough masks,” he said. “Eighty to 90% of the folks were not wearing masks.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a mandatory mask order April 15 and said Monday he believes local governments should have the right to enforce it.

“Because you could literally kill someone,” Cuomo said. “How cruel and irresponsible would that be? … It’s not that big of a deal. You don’t wear a mask to protect yourself. You wear a mask to protect me. And I wear a mask to protect you.

“No one said wear a mask all the time. If you go for a walk in the woods, you don’t have to wear a mask. You can have the mask down when walking in the woods, but if you see someone coming the other way, you put the mask on. It’s the least we can do.”

Deaths: The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 68,000 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than a third of American deaths from the disease have come in the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 24,800 deaths as of Monday.

York County has seen 11 deaths and reported 716 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Pennsylvania has reported 3,012 deaths in 50,957 cases.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio began his Monday morning news briefing by talking about how nice the weather had been in the city over the weekend — and how that could lead to a false sense of normalcy. New York City on Monday reported 13,536 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 and 5,373 deaths in which the cause was listed as the disease but the victim was not tested.

De Blasio said he did not have a problem with citizens returning to outside spaces and enjoying the weather as long as they wore a mask and kept social distancing requirements. He announced Monday that the city would be distributing 5 million 3-ply nonmedical masks and 2.5 million cloth face coverings for free in the coming weeks.

“Wherever you turn, you’re going to be offered a face covering,” de Blasio said.

Police incident: De Blasio and New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea were peppered with questions stemming from a video of an officer pointing a Taser at bystanders in Lower Manhattan during an arrest of people accused of not social distancing properly. The video shows the officer punching and slapping a man as he brings him to the ground.

“This one incident is troubling, but there’s been tens of thousands of interactions between police officer and civilians that went very well,” de Blasio said. The officer has been placed on modified duty and the incident is being investigated, de Blasio said Sunday.

On Monday, he said more face covers could help prevent future violent scenarios from playing out with enforcement, but in this case, the plainclothes officer was also not wearing a mask.

In Oklahoma, Stillwater City Manager McNickle said in a statement that one of the incidents involving the mask requirement included a threat with a firearm.

In Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered that masks be worn through May, state police investigators are looking into reports that a Flint dollar store security guard was fatally shot Friday after an argument with a customer who had refused to wear a mask in the store, according to the Detroit News.

The man who died leaves behind a wife and eight kids.

“My condolences go out to the family of the security guard,” Whitmer said Monday. “It is incredible that people continue to show up to work to protect everyone else. We are mindful of how important it is that people keep a level head, that we do the right things. I ask that all Michiganders keep their wits about them and take actions to protect themselves and others in this incredibly stressful time.”