Front-line workers struggle to enforce mask mandate as some folks refuse to comply
Front-line workers in restaurants, retail stores and public transit are finding themselves once again tasked with enforcing a mask mandate and taking the brunt of criticism from those who don’t comply.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she’s heard from many who are concerned about seeing a lack of compliance at big-box stores and was shocked herself to see more than half of people in one such store without a mask.
“We are not trying to put front-line workers in a confrontational situation,” Lawrence said. “I think a lot of them have a lot of trauma from the last year and a half of that sort of thing, and that was not our intention. We’re hoping to gain compliance through education.”
Lawrence said she thinks following the mandate is about being a good person, protecting your fellow people and respecting front-line workers.
“There are many folks that are not putting themselves into the shoes of what it’s like to be a front-line worker during a pandemic, and they’re taking that for granted, and they’re not showing a lot of respect there,” Lawrence said. “I look at it as a simple act of respect, especially in these places that are all short staffed.”
Tim Jones is a bus driver with Breck Free Ride, and while public transit has required masking throughout the pandemic, he said he ended up in an altercation with a rider who refused to put on a mask after being asked multiple times.
Jones said the rider threatened him after he repeatedly asked the rider to put on a mask. Jones said that while he was reporting the incident over his radio, the rider came up and shoved him, and the police were called.
While Jones said this type of physical abuse is pretty unusual, he and his fellow bus drivers are verbally abused daily when asking folks to mask up. He said this needs to change, calling the “overarching entitlement and madness” overwhelming.
“I get the frustration, but at the same time, the rule is still in place, and we as drivers are still enforcing it,” Jones said.
During the busiest hours when the bus is crowded, Jones said it has become standard for him to remind everyone to keep their masks on. He said he sometimes needs to remind individuals five to 10 times a day to put their masks on. And while most riders innocently forget and quickly put it on, he faces backlash at other times.
“We are trained mostly to de-escalate and try to be nice, but at the same time, if they’re not going to put it on, they go,” Jones said. “It’s basically a firm but fair approach: Understanding that people need to get on. They’ve got skis in their hands. … You’re trying to tell people, ‘Hey, come on and get settled, and then get that mask on, please.’”
Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula owns Downstairs at Eric’s and said he’s been greeting customers at the door pretty much every day, offering disposable masks to those who come in without one.
“It’s what I think everybody expected,” Mamula said. “Some people don’t believe in it. Some people act like they don’t read all the signs as they come in, and it’s pretty frustrating.
Mamula said he doesn’t have any of his employees enforce masking; rather, he deals with it at the door himself or his managers do when necessary. He said enforcement during previous mandates was difficult because you can push people only so hard.
“They give you all kinds of excuses, and I’m not arguing with anybody anymore,” Mamula said. “… It would be great if everybody would just do the right thing. To get to the front door here, you gotta pass at least four signs that say ‘You must wear your mask,’ but people will stare right at the mask sign that’s at the host stand and then look at me without a mask on.”
He added that enforcing mask-wearing at a restaurant is even harder because folks walk in with their mask on, sit down at a table and take it off. Mamula said many of his staff members had been masking before the mandate because they don’t want to get any kind of illness during peak flu season.
Parker Ford, who works at Frisco Emporium, agreed that it has been a struggle, with most resistance coming from visitors. He said while staff members at the emporium have had to turn some folks away for refusing to put on a mask, they haven’t encountered anything as bad as the last time there was a mask mandate.
“Last mask mandate, there were a few times that things almost got physical,” Ford said. “If you can’t comply with the local mandate, just leave the building.”
Ford said everyone is frustrated to have to be masking again but that the majority of people understand why it’s “a necessary evil.”
Lawrence said folks can argue about the merits of masking but that the county will continue to follow the best data and insights it has available, the latest of which place Summit County among the worst in the country for COVID-19 cases. She said many businesses were begging the county to implement a mask mandate before it actually did.
Lawrence said the issues the county has been having with compliance are worrisome and that she wishes she had a magic answer on how to fix it. Summit County’s Board of Health is meeting Tuesday, Jan. 4, to continue conversations around the virus and the best mitigation practices.
“If wearing a mask is what’s asked of you, please do it,” Lawrence said. “It’s a simple act. It’s something very small.”
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