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Commentary By C. Douglas Golden | Published June 28, 2020 at 9:01am

The idea of mask orders went national this past week when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he would “do everything possible” to force all Americans to wear face coverings while out in public.

“The one thing we do know, these masks make a gigantic difference. I would insist that everybody out in public be wearing that mask. Anyone to reopen — would have to make sure that they walked into a business that had masks,” Biden told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.

Asked if he would use the power of the federal government to enforce this, the former vice president replied: “Yes, I would from an executive standpoint, yes, I would.”

“I would do everything possible to make it required that people had to wear masks in public,” he said, when asked if he would “in effect” make make wearing a mask mandatory.

That wouldn’t even happen before next January at the very earliest. By that one time, one prays (rather against the odds) that the whole thing will be redundant. Until then, we’ll still be seeing plenty of similar orders from state and local officials.

One of them is Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who issued an executive order on masks effective Friday: “As necessary economic activity increases and more people are out in their communities, it is imperative that we adopt further measures to protect all of us,” Inslee said Tuesday, according to a news release.

“Until a vaccine or cure is developed, this is going to be one of our best defenses.”

The order states that “[n]o individual may appear in a public place without wearing a face covering,” that “[n]o business may operate, allow a customer to enter a business, or conduct business with a customer inside any building that is open to public or outdoors in a public place unless the customer is wearing a face covering” and that “[n]o individual may enter a place of business, whether the business is operating indoors or outdoors, without first donning a face covering, unless the individual does so under circumstances expressly exempted from this requirement under Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03.”

It’s probably not the most unpopular thing to do, given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide. However, Inslee is governor of a big state, not all of which is urban, experiencing a major increase in cases or particularly liberal. It all becomes more problematic when you parse Inslee’s language and realize he’s essentially signing the state up for mandatory mask-wearing until a vaccine is ready, which could be a year or longer.

It’s this environment and set of conditions that turned Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza into a viral superstar.

In a video taken by The Daily Chronicle in Centralia, Washington, Snaza — not wearing a mask — spoke to a mostly maskless crowd outside a church on the same day Inslee issued his order, according to The Washington Post.

“In case you guys didn’t hear, Governor Inslee in his infinite wisdom has decided after over a hundred and some odd days that we should all wear face masks — inside and out,” Snaza said through a megaphone in the clip.

“Here’s what I say — don’t be a sheep.”

The video had over 265,000 views as of Sunday morning, which is certainly more than you’d expect for a short clip of a sheriff of a sparsely populated county giving his opinion on Jay Inslee’s mask order.

Media in the region took note, as well. In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting the next day, Snaza expressed frustration with Inslee and skepticism that the new policy would actually work.

“My frustration is we continue to listen to the governor’s requests without asking questions, without saying: ‘Well wait a minute, there’s the other side to this’ and in particular wearing the mask,” Snaza said.

He’s also not convinced the masks would be efficacious: “Yet we’re telling people now to wear it and if you don’t wear it, we’re going to cite you for that,” he said.

Snaza’s remarks got enough attention that Inslee addressed them in a news conference on Wednesday.

“I think we have to be disappointed in any law enforcement officer who would encourage illegal behavior,” Inslee said.

He added that wearing a mask “is about demonstrating our respect and care for the other people around us.” And if you don’t care, the government might punish you with up to 90 days of jail time and a $100 fine.

Yet, Sheriff Snaza says he’s not calling for mass lawbreaking: “Just because I said ‘don’t be sheep’ does not mean that I’m outwardly saying I want you to violate the orders,” he said.

Inslee called this clarification “very helpful.”

Less helpful, at least by Inslee’s rubric, was Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer, who called the governor was an “idiot” and said he was “overstepping his bounds, violating people’s constitutional rights.”

Sheriffs in two other counties said they planned to “educate” people about mask usage without enforcing Inslee’s order.

This is the invariable problem with blanket orders like this, which sound great on paper but are wholly unenforceable in reality — particularly given the optics of the government forcing you to wear something. Masks, while potentially efficacious, aren’t the be-all-end-all. After all, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control were previously at odds over whether they’re even necessary for healthy people.

In the end, personal responsibility is going to play a larger part in this than executive orders.

Even if Joe Biden is in a position (heaven forfend) to issue an executive order mandating mask-wearing, good luck enforcing it.

He’s not going to be able to do what Jay Inslee apparently can’t. Treating people as if they’re sheep won’t solve anything.

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