Sun City Summerlin resident Carol Liberty is, for one, fed up with all the to-do surrounding masks.
“The whole thing — I’m just so over it,” said Liberty, as she walked her Chihuahua mix, Mikey, in the upscale Las Vegas community for active people 55 and older.
Wearing a mask at this point should be a matter of personal preference, she believes, regardless of whether a person is vaccinated against COVID-19. And she doesn’t think people should have to prove their vaccination status, either.
“If you want to be out in public and you’re not vaccinated, that’s your problem. It’s a free country,” said Liberty, 74, who noted that shots have been available in her community for months. She got hers in February.
She doesn’t agree with the master-planned community’s current policy of requiring residents who are entering community facilities to either show their vaccination cards or mask up. Still, to avoid a hassle, she shows her card without objection when she uses the fitness center at nearby Desert Vista Community Center.
But other residents are ready to wrangle.
The Sun City Summerlin Community Association has found itself on the receiving end of “rude, accusing and rebellious emails” regarding the mask policy, according to an email from the association that went out to community newsletter subscribers mid-month.
“You are stating you will not show your vaccine card and you will not wear a mask and that if we tell you that you have to you will make sure every government agency that will listen will be investigating our community,” according to an email from Mitzi Mills, the community association’s executive director. The subject line of the email is titled “A Plea and Hope for Your Cooperation.”
“This is your solution to the government requiring masks, to have our facilities completely shut down for an investigation by the government,” wrote Mills, who did not respond to requests for an interview. The community’s board of directors will be considering updates to the mask policy on Tuesday.
It’s unclear what exactly there would be for government agencies to investigate.
Current state and county policy permits vaccinated people to go maskless in most indoor settings while requiring the unvaccinated to still wear masks. And government policy allows businesses and organizations to require proof of vaccination, if they so choose. This is the approach being taken by Sun City Summerlin. Many organizations instead rely on an honor system.
Complicating matters further is that government policy allows organizations to impose stricter measures, such as requiring all employees and customers to wear masks.
All of this has “pushed enforcement of vaccination requirements and masking mandates back to businesses and to schools and to places of worship,” said Johan Bester, an assistant professor and director of bioethics at UNLV’S Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.
Expecting frontline workers to enforce mask policies contributed to tempers flaring, Bester said.
Infringement on liberty
Some community residents expressed sympathy for those on the frontlines of the mask wars.
Jean Bergan, 59, believes that masking rules may have gone a little overboard. Still, “taking it out on Mitzi” — “or on the employees,” chimes in husband, Steve, 64 — “I don’t think that’s fair, either,” she said. “They’re just really abusing the employees, who are mostly volunteers.”
Some residents expressed solid support for the enforcement efforts, noting that older people who contract COVID-19 are more likely to become seriously ill from it.
Resident Alexandra Fujioka, 67, said she’s glad the mask policy is enforced, especially in close quarters like the fitness center.
Phil Sardo, 85, said he doesn’t see why there’s such a fuss.
“This is a health situation,” he said. “It’s not whether you’re Republican or Democrat, or political, or anything like that.” He disagrees that people have a right to “do whatever they want.”
Bester points out that these issues have become politicized and that attitudes tend to fall along political lines and to reflect a certain worldview.
There is evidence that people who are declining to get vaccinated are “less worried about the pandemic … and are more likely to see those things — masking, social distancing, vaccinations — as infringement on their liberty, things that are unreasonable to ask them to do,” Bester said.
“It’s really at the community level, this clash between worldviews, about the pandemic, about vaccination, about our society in general,” he said.
He doesn’t believe that this clash is unique to Sun City Summerlin but instead will be seen in communities all over the country.
Personally, he’d like to see people become less quick to anger.
“I do think people need to take it less personally. I mean, this is a difficult time for everybody,” he said. “It requires patience and personal respect, giving each other the benefit of the doubt in these situations.”
“It is up to us, as a democratic people, to figure out ourselves what to do. Because the government isn’t going to enforce this. They made that clear.”