Every once in awhile, I cannot shake my reporter’s hat.
Though it’s been more than 20 years since I hit the streets in search of stories, some things stick in my craw so firmly that I automatically become inquisitive and in some cases, combative, in search of answers and justice.
First things first: no one likes wearing face masks, particularly as the weather heats up. They’re uncomfortable, cumbersome and tickle our noses, daring us not to scratch.
But Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring people to wear face masks in stores and other public places. The order states: any person in public who cannot be at least six feet away from everyone, must cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face covering.
Many establishments, including post offices, have signs on the door stating patrons won’t be admitted without face coverings.
I like this policy because it’s sweeping and clear: no mask, no entry. So far, the policy is working pretty well. Connecticut’s Covid-19 rate of infection and hospitalization is dropping while many other states with looser policies are seeing growing numbers.
But like a lot of things in life, some people think rules don’t apply to them. This was clear during a trip to my favorite supermarket when a 40-something woman sauntered into the store without a mask after cutting me off in the shopping cart line.
“Where’s her mask?” I asked the store clerk sanitizing the carts. “Why is she being allowed into the store without a mask when everyone else is wearing them?” The clerk shrugged.
The woman heard me, and immediately turned around to confront me.
“I’m a 46-year-old woman and I’m healthy, so I’m not going to wear a mask,” she said. “I don’t even get vaccinations, and if you ask me, this is all a hoax.”
From there, she proceeded to the produce section, looking pretty pleased with herself for standing her ground with me. But as she sauntered around the store, I couldn’t get her off my mind. Why is she entitled to walk around the store without a mask when everyone else is abiding by the rules?
This wasn’t a quick shopping trip. About a half hour after our dust-up at the store entrance, I saw her in the dairy section. Her large cart was full of groceries and she was spreading her germs the entire time without consequences.
I became increasingly infuriated by her attitude and the fact that she was getting away with it. So I asked to speak to the store manager to get some answers.
The manager, who was wearing a mask like all of the other employees, told me that stores have no enforcement power to force people to wear masks. Really? What about Lamont’s order?
He told me that some customers have refused to wear masks, claiming that they have health conditions that prohibit them from wearing them, or simply forget their masks in the car.
On average, he said he encounters about three to four customers a day without masks. When he sees them in the aisles, he approaches and reminds them that they are supposed to be wearing masks. Many of these people have masks in their purses or pants pockets, but just aren’t wearing them because they don’t feel like it, he said.
I wouldn’t dare go into a store without a mask. In fact, when I forgot a mask when picking up my car at Town Fair Tire, I fashioned one out of an old T-shirt I dug up in the back seat of my son’s car. I looked ridiculous, but it’s the least I can do. If the employees and other customers are doing it, I should too.
I reminded the grocery store manager that rules are only as good as their enforcement, and more people are likely to stop wearing masks if they see other people walking around without them. This is how people generally roll: we follow rules until we realize that some people are flouting them. We think, “Well, if she’s walking around without a mask, why shouldn’t I be able to do it too?”
In order for this to work, we all need to be on the same page. And stores need to adopt stricter policies, barring people from entering without masks at the front door. But I’m not holding my breath. The store manager I spoke to didn’t seem open to my suggestion even after I pointed out that some stores have this policy.
So I’ll take my business elsewhere. I won’t patronize a business that won’t protect customers from arrogant and self-entitled morons. They can keep that woman’s business, but they’ve lost mine.