The minute Gov. Charlie Baker started issuing orders to limit the spread of COVID-19 back in March, you had to know it would lead to this — the face mask police. And while Baker says he isn’t putting together a special squad to slap tickets on public health scofflaws, at least not yet, he is asking local police to start intervening — and writing tickets — when people run afoul of state restrictions.
Maybe that’s a bit much for casual offenders who forget a mask when walking into the grocery store. But it’s not excessive for people holding backyard parties with zero regard for how those events can endanger their friends, neighbors and communities.
The latter are the people whom Baker says need attention. Their get-togethers are driving rates of COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts, he says. And to the extent that local police can make people think twice before texting all of their friends to come by and BYOB, well, it’s something to be applauded.
Two weeks ago Baker said the state was investigating at least eight such gatherings, some of which, such as a football camp in South Weymouth, were clearly well planned. He called those a “recipe for disaster” in their potential to put the bellows to the coronavirus. And, on Tuesday, yet another round of restrictions went into place, cutting the limit on outdoor gatherings to 50 people and requiring face marks for everyone if more than 10 people from different households are together in one spot.
That’s frustrating news in prime barbecue and backyard pool season. But don’t forget the stakes. Attendees don’t just risk their own health, they risk picking up COVID-19 and carrying it with them to the grocery store, post office, their child’s day care and their workplace. They chance it not just for themselves but for everyone in their path.
Baker on Tuesday unveiled a map highlighting cities and towns at high risk of COVID-19 spread, as well as nearly 30 at moderate risk, which include Lawrence, Middleton, Georgetown, Salem and Peabody. The state will help those communities with testing and contact tracing. It will also push for tougher enforcement.
Businesses violating the rules could see cease and desist orders. State police and local police could crack down on crowded backyards, telling people to go home and handing out tickets.
It’s unfortunate it has come to this, but for the cavalier among us who break the rules on a gross scale, it’s clear that it’s necessary.