How Are Mask Orders Being Enforced Around the U.S.?

covid-19 Jul 28, 2020

Face coverings are no longer voluntary. After months of encouraging Americans to wear masks, cities and states all over the U.S. are finally starting to punish them if they don't. More than thirty states, and many cities, have now issued mask orders in the U.S., and most of those orders are now being enforced with fines and more. Masks are essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19, but some people refuse to wear them.

Until now, mask orders have largely been unenforced, relying on voluntary compliance to slow the spread. But recently, jurisdictions around the country have announced new punishments for not wearing a mask.

So what could happen if you don’t wear a mask? It could be a heavy fine, an order to close your business, or even  the possibility of jail time. We’re breaking down what mask enforcement looks like around the U.S. today—let’s dive in.

Individuals Could Be Fined for Not Wearing a Mask

The most common way mask orders will be enforced going forward is through fines of individuals—which can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Many cities in California are now fining people who are not wearing masks between $100 and $250 for the first offense, and fines go up for continued noncompliance. The New York Department of Health has recently amended their mask order to allow health officers to fine those who refuse to wear one. Even in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott was hesitant to order masks and close down businesses, noncompliance with the mask order now comes with a $250 fine. In Oregon, the fine for not wearing a mask could be up to $1250.

Some cities are relying on a more educational approach, focusing on distributing free masks and asking citizens to wear them, but there's no guarantee you'll get this treatment if you're out in public without a face covering.

Businesses Could Be Fined or Shut Down for Not Enforcing Mask Orders

Although most businesses have shown a commitment to safe reopening, those that haven't might soon regret it. Businesses that are found to be flouting mask orders—either by allowing staff to work without a mask, or serving customers who are not wearing one—could be punished.

In Miami, Florida, which is now considered the virus’ epicenter, businesses can be fined up to $500 for not enforcing mask orders. In Michigan, health officers maintain the right to shut down businesses temporarily that are not enforcing mask requirements. In Yolo County, California, businesses ignoring coronavirus safety rules, including both masks and social distancing requirements, can be fined up to $10,000.

People Could Potentially Go to Jail For Not Wearing Masks

Although enforcement officers and local governments agree that it would be the last resort, some cities and states reserve the right to arrest and jail those who are not wearing masks.  It's unlikely you'd be arrested for not wearing a mask, but it's possible. In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed has classified noncompliance with the mask order as a misdemeanor “punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both”. Noncompliance in Oregon could be punishable by 30 days in jail, while in Indiana the maximum punishment could be as much as six months.

Final Thoughts

Masks are key to stopping the spread of coronavirus, which is rapidly tearing through communities all over the U.S. Mask orders are in effect all over the country, and although compliance has been largely voluntary, in order to ensure community health many cities and states are beginning to introduce punishments, including fines and even jail time, for not wearing a mask. Evidence continues to support the efficacy of masks in reducing COVID-19 spread. We encourage everyone to wear masks in order to reopen safely!

Further Reading

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