Enforcing mask-wearing in Pa.? The struggle is real

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Jessica Mangold (left) and Leon Vaughn (right) are SEPTA social distancing coaches who hand out masks and encourage riders to stay safe during the pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jessica Mangold (left) and Leon Vaughn (right) are SEPTA social distancing coaches who hand out masks and encourage riders to stay safe during the pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania requires everyone to wear masks when they leave the house — but the state has left business owners, transit agencies and individuals to enforce the rule, which isn’t always easy.

Take the incident that happened at Sesame Place in Bucks County recently when a park-goer punched a teenaged employee who asked him to wear a mask.

Miles Bryan of WHYY’s Keystone Crossroads explains how hard it’s been for businesses to enforce the mask rules, and what experts say the state could do to help them. Then, Michaela Winberg with WHYY’s Billy Penn tells us what happened when SEPTA changed its strategy for how to handle this.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview highlights

Miles on the state’s mask-wearing mandate

This is an order. It’s not a law that was written by the Legislature and signed by the governor, but it has the same “force effect” as a law. So technically, violating that order can result in up to 30 days in jail and or a $300 fine. However, state officials have said that they’re not enforcing it against individuals. State officials said it’s up to businesses to enforce the mask mandate in their businesses. I think overall, officials have been hoping for kind of a voluntary compliance.

On the struggles business owners have faced

David Evasew and Michelle Elbin, they own the Upper Merion Dance and Gymnastics Center … It’s been tough for them as business owners because, you know, according to Dave, some of these folks have actually left. They’ve withdrawn their kids and left the camp because of the mask order. And at times, Dave expressed to me that he felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he wants to to follow government orders, but more importantly, keep his staff and his kids and customers safe. On the other hand, this is a business like many, many others in Pennsylvania that’s really hurting for money. They they lost close to $1 million during the shutdown. They’re still struggling now and saying goodbye to a paying customer is hard.

Michaela on SEPTA’s new social distancing coaches

I thought they would be walking up to people, to riders who either didn’t have masks on or who were standing too close together, and they would tell them to do something differently. They would tell them to just like alter their behavior. They’re not stopping people from doing anything. They’re not stopping people from getting on a train if they don’t have masks on. Instead, they’re just kind of using this really light touch …

I think SEPTA’s really trying to strike a balance here, which is not an easy thing to do. And this is new for all of us. I actually spoke to Omari Bergstein, he’s the president of the union that represents SEPTA’s police force … He said in general, he’s glad to have these social distance coaches that recommend people wear masks. That’s sort of an extra layer of protection for his employees, SEPTA police from the coronavirus.

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