Q: What might be the best way to handle a situation when, in a store, someone comes in not wearing a mask. I am a shopper (groceries) and have seen this happen often.
A: This question has been asked repeatedly across the nation and world in the past year, and the recommendations Ask Us Guy found online from doctors, mental health professionals, conflict-resolution professionals and others were pretty consistent. There are strategies for discussing mask-wearing that might work with friends and family, but it’s a longshot that anything will be accomplished by trying to persuade a stranger in a store.
Law enforcement leaders in Minnesota have been pretty consistent on this one, too, including those at the Mankato Department of Public Safety.
“We’re not really here to enforce the mask ordinance,” Public Safety Director Amy Vokal said.
So calling 911 is not recommended. Instead, Vokal said, go to a store manager or store employee and report the violation. The store probably has a policy for what to do next, which would likely include asking the unmasked shopper to put on a mask or leave the premises. If the person refuses to do one or the other, then police are ready to get involved — potentially citing the offender for a trespassing-related offense.
Now, The Free Press has received complaints since the local and statewide mask mandates took effect last summer that some store managers ignore violators even when other shoppers complain. In that situation, the advice is to let the store manager know you’ll be doing your shopping elsewhere.
Vokal strongly advises against taking the matter into your own hands.
“We do not encourage people to go up and confront,” she said.
The reason for the advice is you know nothing about the person you’re confronting. In some ways, it’s similar to drivers having a rolling debate about perceived rudeness or other misconduct on the roadways. The odds are pretty low that anything positive is going to result from the confrontation.
Ask Us Guy, for instance, witnessed an interaction a few years ago on the entrance ramp from northbound Highway 22 to westbound Highway 14. The ramp starts out with two lanes that merge into one. The driver of a sedan was in the right lane of the entrance ramp. The driver of a semi-truck was in the left lane of the entrance ramp, meaning the trucker had the obligation to merge into the right lane before his lane tapered into nonexistence.
The truck driver, however, thought it would be easier and more realistic for the sedan driver to speed up to make room for the 18-wheeler. When she didn’t, the trucker expressed his opinion by laying on his horn for 10 seconds or so until the woman made room for him to merge. But first, the sedan driver wanted to send this message: “I believe you’re being unnecessarily nasty since you’re the one who’s supposed to change speed to merge.”
She expressed those thoughts by sticking her hand completely out the side window of her car and extending one of her four fingers.
With both now on Highway 14, the situation could have ended. But the trucker decided to have the final word. He expressed his opinion that he considered the woman’s hand signal disrespectful by accelerating into the left lane of Highway 14 until he had pulled even with the sedan and then slowly but methodically forced the sedan completely onto the shoulder of the road, speeding away only after the woman’s right-side tires were completely off the paved shoulder.
Getting back to the maskless shopper, Ask Us Guy guesses that a discussion in the supermarket isn’t going to be much more successful than the merging debate on Highway 14.
Sure, it’s possible maskless shoppers have simply forgotten their masks, in which case they would thank you for the reminder before hustling out to their car to get a face covering.
But after nine months of mask mandates, it’s more likely in Ask Us Guy’s estimation that the maskless person being confronted is someone who really dislikes being told what to do, thinks mask requirements are the first step in an inevitable path to tyranny, or believes mask-wearing exacerbates a medical condition they have.
It seems like a confrontation, in the best-case scenario, would result in nothing for you but a close-up conversation with somebody who isn’t wearing a mask.
Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org; put Ask Us in the subject line.