Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has gone too far. This week he announced new restrictions on individuals, groups, and businesses, including:
- Requiring people to stay home between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (except for when working, buying groceries, going to doctor’s appointments, or taking a walk)
- Requiring restaurants, liquor stores, marijuana stores, casinos, movie theaters, museums, zoos, hair and nail salons, gyms, sports, and all activities and gatherings to close/cease between 9:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
- Requiring people to wear masks in all public places, including sidewalks, streets, parks, forests, and even cars when with members of other households
- Limiting gatherings at people’s houses to 10 people if indoors or 25 people if outdoors
These restrictions, in my opinion, are highly objectionable infringements upon personal liberty, especially the mask mandate. Previously, people were required to wear masks only when expecting to be in a situation where they would be unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people. This essentially meant wearing a mask when going inside a store or business, taking the train or bus, or doing activities with other people (e.g. fitness classes, group get-togethers, meetings, walking with friends), but not while walking or spending time outdoors by oneself. The new mask requirement significantly affects my day-to-day life for the worse. Since the beginning of the pandemic, walking has been a huge part of my daily routine, whether to the park, through the woods, to the grocery store, to the ATM, or to get my daily coffee or tea. I have never worn a mask during my walks. I am fine with putting one on before going into a store or business, but I never considered it necessary to wear one during the walk itself. Starting this Friday, however, I will be required to wear a mask from the moment I leave my house until the moment I return. This seems excessive and unnecessary, as the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus is infinitesimal when walking by oneself.
At the risk of sounding petty and silly, the most problematic part of this new rule for me is the fact that if the rule is to be interpreted literally, whenever I buy a coffee or tea, I will not be able to start drinking it until I get home. Because I live about a 15-minute walk from the downtown area of my town, any hot beverage that I purchase will be lukewarm by the time I am allowed to drink it. Any foam, whipped cream, or caramel drizzle on top of the beverage is also likely to have dissolved or disintegrated. For people who either live right near a coffee or tea place, or drive to one, the new rule does not present a big problem, because they will be able to get to their home or car right away and begin drinking their beverage. But for people such as myself who walk a significant distance to their local coffee shop or, worse, for people who take public transportation, the rule creates a significant problem. This rule also creates problems with ice cream for the same reason (although this is not as applicable during the winter months). Any business that sells food or drink that is designed to be consumed while walking around will be significantly hurt by this new rule.
More philosophically speaking, it is one thing to require masks inside a store or business, but another thing to require them on sidewalks, streets, parks, and forests. The former, although public places, are privately owned. The owners would be within their rights to kick me out or deny me entry if I’m not wearing a mask; it is their store after all. But the latter are public places, not owned by anyone. No one has a right to kick anyone else out of a street, park, or forest or impose any conditions for entry. The requirement that people wear a mask every time they leave their home makes me feel dangerously close to being under house arrest. It is a disturbing level of government overreach.
Another sad consequence of this mean-spirited new set of rules is that the Encore Boston Harbor casino has been forced to reduce its hours and temporarily close its hotel. The restaurant industry, already struggling to survive, will undoubtedly be hurt as well.
“Once again, it’s time for the people of Massachusetts to step up for one another — to play by the rules and to fight the fight,” Baker said when unveiling the new restrictions, according to Boston.com. “We’re telling people to go home, and not to go to their friend’s house or their neighbor’s house or somebody else… Do I expect everybody to follow these rules? No. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since the beginning of this, it’s the vast majority of people in Massachusetts are rule-followers and if you give them rules and guidance, they will do it.”
I generally am a rule-follower. But only up to a point, and only when the rules are fair. These are not. People are not obligated to step up for one another, or to follow rules that are unjust. The only fight that the people of Massachusetts should be fighting is against authoritarian government policies such as these. And what right does Baker have to tell people which houses they are and are not allowed to go to? He is treating the people of Massachusetts in a disrespectful and insulting manner. I am seriously considering simply not following this mask mandate. I am willing to make some changes to my daily routine to reduce my Covid risk and to be in compliance with the rules, but these new rules pass the point of reasonableness.
Baker argued that the new restrictions are needed to prevent the number of Covid cases from overwhelming the medical system. “If we do nothing and stay on the track we’re on now, we’ll create capacity problems for our healthcare system by the end of the calendar year,” he said. “Imagine what that would be like for your friends and neighbors who work in health care, if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at double digit rates straight into and through the holiday season: double shifts, no time for families, the same urgency and demands on their time that we placed on them last spring.”
At the risk of sounding callous and insensitive, my reaction to this is… too bad. It is the job of those who run the medical system to make decisions about how to handle capacity problems and how to allocate resources. It is the job of those who work in the medical system to work the shifts they are assigned. I have worked in a variety of different jobs and have experienced hectic days, heavy workloads, and long hours on numerous occasions. It’s exhausting and stressful. But government leaders have never encouraged the general public to alter their behavior in order to make my work situation less stressful, nor would I expect them to. So why should I alter my behavior in order to make someone else’s work situation less stressful? Getting my daily coffee or tea, and drinking it as I walk home, has been one of the few pleasures that I have still been allowed to enjoy in this age of authoritarianism. I am not obligated to sacrifice it, or my freedom, so that medical professionals can have a lighter workload.
I used to be a supporter of Baker and even volunteered for his campaign in 2010 and 2014. But the restrictions that he has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic violate individual rights and are morally wrong. Baker has demonstrated that he is an authoritarian dictator, and that is not something that I can support.