We’re coming up to the one-year anniversary of shutting down and masking up. Since then, America’s governors have found themselves cast as one of two stereotypes. There’s the overbearing, schoolmarmish blue-state governor who loves to mandate masks and the freedom-lovin’, grandma-killin’ red-state governor who doesn’t. (Of course, most people ignored the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was as ruthlessly effective at culling the elderly as he was at shuttering businesses in New York).
These archetypes resurfaced this week after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted his Texas’s mask mandate, declaring his state ‘100 percent open’. California governor and passionate foodie Gavin Newsom branded the move ‘reckless’.
But when you look at the wording of the mandates themselves, how different are blue states from red states? Not particularly!
Let’s look at Gov. Cuomo’s ‘mask mandate’ in New York for starters. Clause a) of section 66-3.2 says that ‘any person who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance’.
The key part here is ‘unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance’: if you are more than six feet from someone and you’re out and about in public, you are not required to wear a mask in New York. Perhaps not such a suffocating mandate after all.
When that woman stared daggers at you from a distance as you strolled alone through Central Park or that guy yelled at you from the other side of Broadway to ‘wear a mask, asshole’ — you were not legally required to do so. But you probably did, didn’t you?
The same is true in New Jersey, Virginia, California and other Democratic states. It was always the sense that masks were mandated from which these states’ governors were garnering their reputations for COVID strictness. This was always a phony authoritarianism, in much the same way as when President Biden signed an executive order requiring the wearing of face-masks on federal property — and then posted a tweet which declared ‘masks: mandated’.
There is of course a flip-side: if the Democratic politicians pretending to be strict on masks are phony authoritarians, the Republican governors lifting their mask mandates are phony liberators. Texans, for example, are still being asked by their governor to wear masks; they’re just not being required by the state to do so. ‘Because Texans have mastered the safe strategies… they know the right thing to do,’ the governor told a local ABC outlet.
And though your state may no longer mandate masks, your city or county might. Gov. McMaster of South Carolina lifted his statewide mandate after Abbott, but the city of Charleston’s mask ordinance runs until March 12 and is likely to be extended. If there is no practical difference between now and one week ago when the statewide mandate was still in place — are you really any more free now than you were then?
Around this time in 2020, public officials were telling Americans that they didn’t need to wear face-masks, in order to prevent a shortage. Maybe now, one year on, our leaders and experts could be a bit more honest about what’s in the small print.