Thursday, April 25, 2024

The government can require us to cover some parts of our body

by JIM JONES/Special to The Press
| December 11, 2020 1:00 AM

As I watched a recent TV news interview of a gentleman saying the government could not tell him what to wear, a memory floated back into my mind from the 1950s. My hometown, Eden, Idaho, was confronted with that very question. A local free spirit, Bill N, chafed at the idea of having to wear clothes in public. So, Bill would occasionally appear on Main Street without a stitch of clothing, other than a 4-inch-wide leather belt, apparently to show that the government could not force him to wear clothes. Needless to say, the government won the argument, causing Bill to spend some time at the State Hospital in Blackfoot for flaunting the law against indecent exposure.

The critical question nowadays is whether the government can require folks to wear a mask. We all seem to take it for granted that government laws can make us wear clothes in public to protect the sensibilities of onlookers. Doesn’t it make sense that it can take the extra little step of requiring us to cover our noses and mouths so as not to exhale potentially deadly virus-laden vapor toward others?

The scientific community tells us that masks work to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found face masks to be “the most effective means to prevent the interhuman transmission” of the virus. An October report out of the University of Washington said that the extensive use of face masks could prevent 130,000 needless American deaths by the end of February. With the current COVID-19 daily death toll in the U.S. climbing above 3,000 and wide-spread vaccination months away, it is critical for everyone to mask up.

Masks are dirt cheap, compared to the staggering cost of all of the medical staff and facilities required to care for patients who are infected by those exhaling unfiltered breath containing the virus. And masking is something that everyone can easily do.

Some refuse to mask up, believing the pandemic is a hoax. However, it is considered to be a serious health threat by virtually every nation on the planet. Decisions by consumers, businesses and governments are driven by that belief. There will never be a real economic rebound until the great majority of our people believe the threat has been contained. That won’t happen until about 95% of us start wearing masks, regardless of any conspiracy theory. Masks can avert the need for costly lockdowns.

Idaho’s Disaster Medical Advisory Committee has asked Governor Brad Little to impose a statewide mask mandate because our hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 victims, medical personnel are being run ragged and things are getting worse by the day. Governor Little is a decent person and I believe he would have mandated mask-wearing long ago, if it weren’t for a science-defying Lieutenant Governor and covey of like-minded legislators nipping at his heels. The time has come for the mandate, before the situation spins out of control.

I believe the vast majority of Idahoans would appreciate a mask mandate. Many anti-maskers would comply because Idaho folk are basically law abiders. Some who don’t wear masks because of peer pressure from anti-maskers might be pleased to have an excuse to mask up. Mask mandates are in effect in 37 other states so there would be no shame in following the science and joining them.

As Bill N sadly learned, Idahoans have been happy for many years with the government requiring them to cover up certain body parts in public. Just adding a small covering over our noses and mouths to protect the lives of our friends and neighbors shouldn’t be a big deal.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran. He went on to become the state's attorney general and member of the Idaho Supreme Court.