One of the most entertaining attractions at the Mississippi State Fair is the petting zoo, where children and adults get to mingle with all sorts of good-natured farm animals.
Some of the people in charge of this year’s fair would be excellent additions to the petting zoo — because they are being awfully muleheaded about the subject of masks.
Agriculture and commerce commissioner Andy Gipson, whose agency runs the state fair, said visitors will get to decide for themselves whether they wish to wear a mask. They’ll be available at the fair entrance for anyone who doesn’t bring their own.
Gov. Tate Reeves, who repealed his statewide mask mandate last week, said last month that there will be risks to attending an event like the state fair, and everyone should decide for themselves whether their own health or the fear of coronavirus infection makes a visit unwise.
Fair enough. A mask is uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing when you forget your mask in the car and have to walk back to get it.
Plenty of people in Mississippi resent being told by the government that they have to wear a mask. They say it violates their personal liberties. Some believe earnestly that masks do nothing to stop the spread of the virus.
Of course, the people making the personal liberty argument probably are the same folks who get disgusted when young Black males exercise a little personal liberty of their own and decline to wear a mask over their rear ends, in the form of pants.
This objection only goes so far. It would be nice if young men covered their butts in an effort not to offend others. But it also would be nice if the people who say “hell, no” to masks recognized that many of the country’s foremost medical experts believe wider use of face coverings could knock this virus down more quickly, and put up with the occasional discomfort for the public good. Instead, some have bragged publicly that to get around a mandate, they’ll just lie about having a medical condition and claim to be exempt from wearing one.
The larger point is this: Mississippi has done an excellent job reducing the spread of the virus in the last couple of months. It could be that the governor’s statewide mask mandate helped. Many people feared the public would let their guard down over the Labor Day weekend and the state would see a spike in infections afterward. That did not happen.
Why, then, would state leaders even consider increasing the risk of turning a fun, family-friendly event like the state fair into something that could increase infections? The benefits of letting visitors decide for themselves about masks does not outweigh the possible harm.
For the record, the state fair will have plenty of the health precautions that we’ve all learned to live with this year. Indoor events at the fair will be limited to 25% of occupancy, and safety marshals will enforce social distancing — a thankless job, no doubt.
Hopefully Gipson’s and Reeves’ bet on the state fair pays off, and everyone has a good time without a lot of people getting sick. But it’s just hard to shake the idea that a mask requirement during a pandemic is too much to ask.