Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng announces stricter coronavirus mask wearing rules during a press conference in Gretna on Monday, June 29, 2020. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

COVID-19 deaths in Jefferson Parish peaked in April, when 289 people lost their lives. Since then, coronavirus fatalities in the parish are down close to 90%. As of Monday, 33 Jefferson Parish residents have died in June from COVID-19.

Despite the considerable progress lowering COVID-19 related deaths, Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng ordered her 430,000 constituents to wear face masks when inside businesses and public places beginning Wednesday. Lee Sheng didn’t say how long the mandate would last or who would enforce it. But she did say her emergency proclamation order could come with a $500 fine and six months in jail.

“No one is going to jail over this,” said Lee Sheng.

But then she promised to get tough with those flouting the rules.

“I will aggressively pursue egregious violators,” said Lee Sheng.

COVID-19 cases have begun to rise in Jefferson Parish in June. But cases are down since it peaked in April when more than 5,000 tested positive in the parish. The number of new cases was mostly flat in May. But this month, cases began to rise again with fewer than 2,000 testing positive. That’s still a 60% drop in positive tests in Jefferson Parish compared to April.

It’s curious Lee Sheng announced this week her mandating mask-wearing, with parish fatalities remaining relatively low. Why not require masks in April when so many more were dying of the disease?

Mask wearing has become a divisive issue. A recent Pew Research poll found 88% of Democrats wear masks compared to only 49% of Republicans.

Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, has called for a federal mandate requiring mask-wearing when in public places. Republican President Donald Trump rejects the idea. Trump even refuses to be seen in public wearing a mask.

At some point, we’re going to have to push back on government taking away our liberties in an attempt to save us from ourselves.

Lee Sheng justified her mask mandate, in part, after getting more than 500 calls from a hotline she set up for people to rat out Jefferson Parish business owners whose employees were not wearing masks.

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome set up a similar hotline to report on businesses not complying with mask-wearing requirements. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is making her constituents wear face masks in public places. On Monday, Cantrell promised she may call for even tighter restrictions and more thorough enforcement. Thus far, Gov. John Bel Edwards has resisted the idea of forcing people to wear masks statewide, arguing reasonably that there is no way to enforce the rule.

Remember what started all this erosion of our freedoms? It was all about flattening the curve. We don’t hear about that much anymore. We also don’t get the doomsday predictions of the virus overwhelming hospital beds and causing ventilator shortages.

In fact, political leaders seemed unconcerned about the virus when thousands hit the streets across America to protest. For young people who were not involved in the demonstrations, that seemed like a signal that it was safe to gather again. Now that the protests have slacked off, the virus has reappeared and is again worthy of taking away our freedoms.

It’s not just the government using the virus as an excuse to boss us around. We now have mask shamers among us. They claim the maskless are endangering them. But if it’s the mask that protects the mask wearer, what difference does it make if someone is maskless to the mask wearer?

So, what’s the end game? Lee Sheng refused to say on Monday when her mask mandate would end. Are we going to have to wear masks in perpetuity? And what about the more than 42,000 people in Louisiana that have recovered from the coronavirus? Why do they have to wear masks?

Our leaders are currently on a freedom-taking binge, when the better course would be to trust sober-minded Louisianans to protect themselves. If they keep changing their tune, don’t look for an end to the madness anytime soon.

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