Letter: Education, not prosecution, is method for public health order compliance | SteamboatToday.com

Letter: Education, not prosecution, is method for public health order compliance

A recent letter to the editor urged our Routt County commissioners to repeal that portion of their Public Health Order 2020-03 requiring people wear masks in public venues such as essential businesses. The authors seem to point to the imposition of fines and jail as their primary concern, and some of the public comments echo that concern. 

Because it appears there is a misunderstanding as to the probability of this consequence, as your district attorney responsible for prosecuting crimes, I feel it important to provide clarification. Public health orders are created by state statutes that pre-date this pandemic. The violation of a public health order is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by fine or jail or both.  These criminal sanctions for violating a public health order are a creature of state law that also pre-dates this pandemic. 

Like most criminal statutes, the maximum penalties provided are rarely imposed or even sought. Indeed, local law enforcement is going out of its way to obtain compliance with these important public health orders through education, not prosecution. Pursuit of jail and large fines for violations of public health orders is something to expect only in egregious circumstances involving dangerously belligerent levels of selfishness or fear mongering.

In the vast majority of cases, compliance will be achieved because as residents of this community we care about each other and don’t want to risk spreading the disease and possibly killing someone, not because we are threatened with prosecution. 

Also, for me, it helps to remember that although moderately inconvenient to wear a mask or a bit unsettling to see neighbors wearing masks, my temporary inconvenience or mild anxiety is not nearly as terrifying as watching a loved one on a ventilator, or worse, being told there are not enough ventilators in the valley for my loved one to live.

Matt Karzen
14th Judicial district attorney

Moffat, Routt, Grand counties

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