(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
An independent restaurant in Utah has a unique approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Rather than requiring that its customers wear masks when entering and walking around the premises – as pretty much every other small business does around the country – the owners actually ban the use of masks.
That’s right: no service if you’re wearing a mask.
Yaks Cafe in Blanding, Utah, a town of about 4,000 people located in the south-east corner of the state, has been resisting the mask-wearing requirement even in the wake of rapidly rising Covid-19 cases and the dismay of local public health officials.
“We find it really saddening,” the county’s public health department executive director, Kirk Benge, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But we’re still in discussions with the county attorney about what we feel would be the best course of action.” According to the Tribune report, health departments in the state are not able to enforce the mandated mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines established earlier this summer, even though a violation of the rules could bring fines and even jail time.
The owner of Yaks Cafe, who refuses to talk to the media, remains adamant. Both a Facebook post, which has since been made private, and the restaurant’s answering machine reminds customers of its no mask or gloves policy “in efforts to keep our restaurant clean and sanitary”. A sign posted in the restaurant says “No masks! No! No gloves! No! No masks! No! Are allowed in the cafe!” You see? It’s for “sanitary” reasons that masks aren’t required. Got it.
Business owners – like the owners of Yaks – have every right to question the need for such mandates, that’s free speech. But the fact is that we live in a democracy and in this democracy we vote for our leaders who then appoint and oversee government officials, including health administrators. These are the people who set the rules which, they feel based on their experience, are in the best interests of the public. That’s the way it works here. If you don’t like it, then vote to change it. Otherwise, as business owners – and good citizens – we need to abide by those rules.
The owners of Yaks are not doing this. Maybe they truly believe it’s within their constitutional rights. Or maybe they’re just marketing geniuses and know how to get a lot of media attention. Their actions will turn off many – “This makes me wanna yak,” one reddit user posted. But then again there will be people who agree, like this Twitter user who stands behind the cafe and believes that it’s the “one restaurant that is taking a stand (because) mask(s) leave more pathogens on the surfaces”.
You can argue about how effective masks are, if you want to. But that’s not the point. This story is about playing by the rules, and unlike just about every other small business in this country who are reluctantly facing the same challenges, the owners of Yaks are not doing this. And that’s just bad business.