Mask Wearing: Lessons from the NBA, NHL and MLB

On Tuesday, I voted as a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to suspend an emergency rule issued by the Department of Public Health (DPH) which adds language to enforce the Governor’s statewide emergency order on face coverings and social distancing.  The rule requires all persons over age two to wear a face covering, or to maintain social distance of at least six feet, or both, and provides for enforcement through formalized, graduated means. The rule was issued in a way which had the effect of limiting statutory law. Statutes take precedence over administrative actions and thus the rule is, for that and for a number of other reasons, in my opinion unenforceable.

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There are some who interpret my procedural position on an administrative rule as saying that I voted against wearing masks. That’s not the case at all. I haven’t had the opportunity to vote on the issue of mask wearing, that’s something that is done by the Legislature, not JCAR. Perhaps those who would ascribe motives to my vote should take the time to learn something about the legislative process instead of flapping their gums about something they don’t understand.  If they did that, they would then join me in urging the Governor to call a special session of the Legislature to weigh in on the subject. That’s exactly what I told the Governor when he called me on Monday night, but he said it’d be something we’d take up in January. I have every intention of being there in January, but if COVID-19 makes a return engagement before then in a more virulent way, then all bets are off, especially if (when) his rule which flouts Illinois statutory law is itself flouted.

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While we’re on the subject, I think we can all learn a lot about the effectiveness of reasonable adherence to sensible social activities by watching what’s going on in the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball. All three leagues have begun play, with the NBA and NHL living and playing in a “bubble”, which strictly prohibits those in the bubble from leaving it. As a result, there hasn’t been a single case of COVID-19 in the weeks that they’ve been inside it. MLB has been pretty good about keeping itself virus-free, even though the teams are traveling from one city to another. Every team, that is, except for the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, who had players and/or staff violate team rules by going out in public and bringing the virus back to the clubhouse. As a result, the Cardinals have only played five games all season.

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I think this is pretty solid evidence that sensible measures work. We can’t all live in a bubble like the NBA and NHL, we’re more like MLB, but we should take these lessons and apply them in our own lives.

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This is now just as much a political pandemic as a health pandemic, and mask wearing is the flashpoint. I mean, how many times have you seen someone in the bathroom washing his hands and having someone tell him: “Dude, real men don’t wash their hands. If you do that, you’re just giving in to the Governor’s agenda of executive overreach!”

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No, it’s the mask that’s become the talisman of the political pandemic, because the mask is visible; if you refuse to wear a mask, you’re showing that you’re standing up to The Man.

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Leadership isn’t telling people to do things “my way or else”. That’s where the Governor and I part ways. Leadership is shown in the ability to explain why something is important and convincing people that to follow is in everyone’s best interest. At this, he’s missed his opportunity.

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Look, I’m dead set against having the police tell you to wear a mask and then turn you into a criminal for refusing to do so, but here’s the deal: there are those, including my opponent in the November election, who won’t hesitate to do that. He’s on the record (albeit behind a pay wall) as having said so. If you aren’t going to live in a bubble, then take a cue from what seems to work for those who do.  We’ll get through this, but if we don’t turn the boil down to a simmer, it’s going to take longer to both climb out of this mess and to recover. Wear a damned mask.

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