Punishments for mask mandate violations are not ideal for compliance, local health expert says

Posted at 4:42 AM, Nov 19, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - Violate face mask mandates in Virginia or North Carolina, and you will be looking at trouble and possibly charges - but Dr. Brian Martin sees this as a concern.

"Down on the state level, it's even challenging,” Martin said. “How do you enforce it?"

Martin is the director of the Master's Program for Public Health at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He said punishments for violations are not the most ideal method if governments and health departments want the population to comply.

"There have been some states that have tried to do that through police, police enforcement and fines, even arrest,” Martin explained.

However, Martin said he thinks there are better ways to make sure people are wearing their masks instead of using enforcement.

“Enforcing is not a good option, in my opinion,” he said. "Public health messaging is, in my opinion, the much better way to gain compliance."

That includes public awareness of wearing masks and explaining the science behind it.

"We all know campaigns like 'Click it or Ticket',” Martin explained, referring to the national campaign that encourages people to wear their seatbelt. “There is a punishment if you don't do it, but also along with that is a huge public education."

Like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, Martin, too, says masks save lives.

"I think people respond much better to an educated and informed personal choice than they do to punishment,” Martin said. “As soon as you say, 'We're going to enforce this with a heavy hand,' you're going to lose a portion of that population and, really, we all need to be in this together."

In Virginia, the expanded mandate requires everyone five years of age and older to wear a face mask indoors. The Virginia Department of Health has the authority to enforce the mandate.

Anyone violating the mandate can be given a court summons and face a misdemeanor.

In North Carolina, it is businesses that would be punished, but not individuals, because law enforcement is not authorized to carry out punishments towards individuals.

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