SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — The sharp rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the country has refocused attention squarely on prevention.
That includes wearing a face mask to protect yourself and others from possible infection.
In fact, Louisiana remains under a statewide mask mandate until at least Dec. 4 as part of Stage 3 of reopening the state’s economy.
Most, if not almost all, retailers also have signs on their doors that say masks are still required in their stores, as well.
But we talked to customers who say those rules are almost never enforced.
Pam Bell described her first thought when she sees someone without a mask near her. “What I think? I think it’s unsafe. And I think I should wear it because the virus is bad.”
Trying to get a mask opponent to explain their stance can be easier said than done, at least on camera.
Some of those opposed to wearing a face mask claim it’s a violation of a person’s constitutional rights to force them to do so.
But shopper Richard Antee contends that argument doesn’t hold much water.
“Yeah, right. Well, it’s your constitutional right to die too. They didn’t consider that. Mask or die. Mm hmm,” as Antee held up his own mask.
Most legal experts agree that a private company, on their own private property, has every right to refuse service — just like the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy we’ve all seen throughout the years.
But enforcement of a mask mandate is limited. Most retailers do not want their employees involved in a confrontation that can, on occasion, escalate into violence.
Instead, some national chains will offer a free mask at the door, for example, and instruct their employees not to press the issue, concluding it’s not worth the risks involved.
This hands-off approach is often compared to a store’s policy on shoplifting - where they are not to get directly involved, but instead let the authorities handle it.
And it did not take long to hear from others who see mask-less customers all too often.
“A lot," Chasaty Lanier said with a laugh. "A lot. I shop all the time, so I see a lot of them without the mask on.”
Shoppers we met also understand how quickly a situation can escalate with someone angry about the prospect of wearing a mask.
“Right! You can’t tell ‘em nothin.’ They get upset,” Nicole Porche said.
But she has a message for those who refuse to wear a mask.
“Please wear a mask. You’re in and out of the store. Just wear it. It won’t hurt. Please wear a mask.”
So, in short, law enforcement will rarely, if ever, get involved in enforcing the mask mandate itself.
But if a customer refuses to leave when asked to do so, that’s when police may get involved. And if the person still won’t leave, they could face a charge of criminal trespassing.
With all this in mind, Louisiana has now conducted 14,000 compliance inspections for Phase 3 of reopening the state’s economy, with 1,700 violations discovered.
But regulators say they are focusing less on fines and more on helping businesses get into compliance.
Other shoppers we met, like Plain Dealing resident Gene Brown, tell us they’re actually seeing fewer no-maskers recently. “Not as much as I had been...I think people are realizing that they need to be safe.”
Susanne Bourgeois laments the continued abundance of mask-less customers every morning at the store where she works.
“Oh, in the mornings. It’s more in the mornings, kind of when the contractors coming in and out about 7, 8-o’clock. You see a lot of them.”