Roundup: Mandatory mask wearing gaining ground in U.S. West despite conservative opposition

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by Peter Mertz

DENVER, the United States, July 18 (Xinhua) — With coronavirus cases spiking nationwide, corporate America pushed political leaders toward mandating mask wearing this week, while vocal conservatives protested their loss of civil liberties in their opposition.

The corporate avalanche mandating mask wearing began last Wednesday with mega-retailer Walmart’s announcement, followed by grocer giant Fred Meyer, Kohl’s, Best Buy, and Starbucks.

“To help bring consistency across stores and clubs, we will require all the shoppers to wear face covering starting Monday, July 20,” Walmart U.S. chief operating officer Dacona Smith said in a blog.

BACKPEDALING

This week, a host of conservative states reversed course and mandated mask wearing, including Republican governors Kay Ivey and Asa Hutchinson from Alabama and Arkansas on Thursday.

On Friday, Colorado became one of the first western states to make mask wearing mandatory, as the western state hit COVID-19 case totals not seen since May 1, with hospitals filling fast.

The order for wearing a face mask applies to everyone in the state who is age 11 and older whenever they’re anywhere in public and indoors. People who have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing face masks are exempt.

Colorado saw 618 new coronavirus cases Friday, with 39,344 cases and 1,751 deaths confirmed since the pandemic broke, according to the Colorado Department of Health.

“We have a choice in Colorado: either more mask wearing and more attention to social distancing, or more damage to our economy and loss of life,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said at a news conference on Thursday.

Polis, a Democrat, has been aggressive about steps to reopen Colorado, but like in many states, has backpedaled as a resurgence of cases has swept from coast to coast.

Polis was immediately attacked by local Republicans on Twitter.

“The governor is on a power trip and his mask mandate is a clear violation of our civil liberties. I retained counsel with the intent to see you. Stay tuned,” Patrick Neville, a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, said Friday on Twitter.

CONSERVATIVE WEST OPPOSITION

Unlike Colorado, Republican-run states in U.S. West are still resisting mandating mask wearing, although many governors are telling citizens to cover up.

“More personal contact among people, as the state economy reopens, and more available testing has contributed to new COVID-19 cases hitting record highs that began at the end of June,” KTVH-DT television station in Montana said this week.

The COVID-19 spike had been tied to the Fourth of July weekend, health officials said in Montana, reported Montana Public TV (MPTV) on Friday.

“While most of the newest Covid-19 cases have come from the more populous Missoula and Yellowstone counties, health officials in Northwest Montana see a steep rise in case it stems from July 4 holiday gatherings,” MPTV said.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s statewide mask mandate came after hundreds of Montana residents, business owners, and healthcare leaders demanded the move as viral cases mounted in the state.

As of Friday, Montana confirmed 137 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 2,366, according to Montana Free Press.

In Wyoming, “a visibly angry” governor Mark Gordon urged residents on Wednesday to wear face masks.

“When somebody sends me a note that says, ‘well, these people are going to die anyway they’re just dying sooner,’ I got to say, I’m offended,” he said at a news conference.

But the Republican governor, who represents a state that went to President Donald Trump by 46 points in the 2016 presidential election, still has not made mask wearing the law so far.

BACKLASH

On Thursday, in Utah, “a public meeting about a school mask policy was postponed moments after it began because dozens of people not wearing masks showed up to protest,” USA Today reported.

Utah Republican Governor Gary Herbert had announced July 8 he was considering a statewide edict on face coverings, and, despite record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, anti-mask forces took to social media to stage the hostile act, NBC News reported.

A similar scene of chaos erupted in Utah’s northern neighbor Idaho, where a meeting by health department officials on a mask mandate was canceled Thursday morning after “a large number of protesters” turned up at the building and forced their way inside, according to several media sources.

Health departments in several Idaho counties mandated mask wearing this week, as coronaviruses cases soared with more than 4,400 as of Tuesday, according to health department data.

But political analysts said it’s unlikely that conservative Governor Brad Little would put a mask order in place, following the standard Republican line, according to local 104.3 Country Radio.

SOUTHWEST TURMOIL

In Arizona on Friday, Governor Doug Ducey ramped up public health funding and offered free masks for the elderly, according to KTAR News.

Meanwhile, doctors in the Grand Canyon State said Arizona needs statewide mask mandate, and the message from the Republican governor was mixed, similar to the president of the United States, who just wore a mask in public this week for the first time.

Despite pressure from local leaders and health professionals, Republican Ducey has not issued a state-wide mask mandate amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The governor is telling us to wear masks and he recommends them, yet there is no mask mandate,” tweeted Natasha Bohan, a family physician at One Medical.

“So that is a little bit of a mixed message to the public,” she said.

As of Saturday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported more than 141,000 COVID-19 cases in the state with 2,730 deaths.

In Arizona’s neighbor to the east, New Mexico, open hostility continued from the few who opposed the mask wearing protective measure.

One woman was slapped in a New Mexico convenience store after confronting a non-mask wearing woman, according to KRQE News this week.

In the state’s largest city Albuquerque, hundreds gathered for a protest against quarantining, masks, and how the Democratic governor is handling the coronavirus crisis.

“America is just so easily manipulated and told what to do without even a fight and today we were fighting,” Steve Smothermon, pastor at Legacy Church which had a lawsuit over the public health ordinance thrown out, spoke at the protest.

The Land of Enchantment state, run by Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, mandated mask wearing in public on May 14, but phased back the restriction in June, only to make the measure mandatory again last Monday.

Local health officials told the media the uptick is the result of Fourth of July celebrations. Enditem

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