The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, encouraged people to say something to someone in public without a face mask, "so they fall in line."
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, calls it “social shaming” and says it’s a good idea to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Appearing Tuesday on local radio station WPRO, Mayor Jorge Elorza encouraged people to speak up if they see someone in public without a face mask or people gathering in large groups.
“You should socially shame them, so they fall in line,” Elorza said.
Radio host Gene Valicenti disagreed with the mayor, saying such a confrontation could lead to problems.
“You’re going to come across the wrong guy,” Valicenti said.
To help stop the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health experts have recommended that people wear masks covering their noses and faces when they’re in public and unable to stay six or more feet away from other people.
On Friday, Rhode Islanders will be required to wear facial coverings in public. Gov. Gina Raimondo and Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott had previously recommended masks, but on Tuesday Raimondo announced that she was issuing an executive order making masks mandatory.
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While people across the country have adopted the practice of wearing masks in recent weeks, some have refused and, in some cases, that has led to confrontations.
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Elorza’s conversation with Valicenti happened before Raimondo announced her executive order, but it occurred after Valicenti noted police had gotten some 45 calls about large gatherings of people in Providence over the weekend. Raimondo has prohibited gatherings of more than five people.
While the state has seen some encouraging signs in slowing the spread of coronavirus, Elorza said Rhode Islanders must remain vigilant.
“We can’t let our guard down right now,” he said.
As of Wednesday, Rhode Island has had 10,205 cases of the coronavirus and 370 deaths.
Elorza said neighbors have a role in breaking up big groups and also encouraging people to wear their masks in public. He said there aren’t enough police officers to enforce the new regulations, so it’s up to people to ensure their neighbors are following the rules.
“We need people to self-police,” he said.
Elorza said he’s talked to people about following the rules and he didn’t have any problems.
“But you’re the mayor,” Valicenti said.
“I’m also a neighbor,” Elorza said.
Elorza said he doesn’t want people to invite “unnecessary confrontation.”
“It don’t think it has to be a confrontational thing,” Elorza said. “There’s a role for every person to play to make sure everyone else is a part of the solution.”
During Tuesday’s press conference at the Rhode Island State House, Alexander-Scott noted that physical conditions do prevent some people from safely wearing masks. Exceptions are being made in Raimondo’s order for those with medical or developmental conditions. Children younger than 2 are also excluded. Others will face a still-undetermined civil penalty for violating the new order.
The Providence Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, sent inquiries to several local police departments asking whether Rhode Islanders should engage those not following the rules.
East Providence Maj. Christopher Francesconi said, “We encourage everyone to follow Gov. Raimondo and their respective mayor’s or city manager’s executive orders.”
The East Providence police declined to comment on Elorza’s suggestion.
Valicenti later told his listeners: “Don’t shame anybody. Just mind your own business and keep going. That’s my advice.”
Follow reporter Jack Perry on Twitter: @jgregoryperry
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