Face covering debate heating up in Orange County amid calls to enforce statewide order

The battle over wearing a face mask is intensifying in Orange County, even after the state issued new guidelines last week mandating face coverings in high-risk settings.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020
OC face covering debate heating up amid calls to enforce statewide order
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The battle over wearing a face mask is intensifying in Orange County, even after the state issued new guidelines last week mandating face coverings in high-risk settings.

The battle over wearing a face mask is intensifying in Orange County, even after the state issued new guidelines last week mandating face coverings in high-risk settings.

Groups for and against the use of face masks have formed in the county.

Orange County Labor Federation held a news conference at 11 a.m. on Monday, calling on county supervisors to enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom's mask order.

Anti-mask protesters interrupted a planned press conference held by a pro-mask group last week.

At the news conference, union representatives called on local authorities to enforce the governor's mask order, pointing to recent increases in coronavirus infections in Orange County.

Orange County Labor Federation says many people are not complying with the order and it is not being enforced.

On Thursday, the state Department of Public Health issued new guidelines mandating face coverings in most situations while indoors, but also outside when a person cannot maintain six feet of social distance. The order includes inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space, as well as anyone using public transportation.

RELATED: Coronavirus California: Gov. Newsom issues statewide order to wear face masks in high-risk settings

State health officials issued a statewide order that requires Californians to wear a face covering in high-risk settings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In general, state law supersedes local laws.

There are exemptions to the statewide order that include children age 2 and younger because of the risk of suffocation, and for people with a variety of medical or psychological issues that make mask-wearing a hazard.

RELATED: Face masks no longer required in Orange County as more businesses like gyms get OK to reopen

A petition on Change.org asking O.C. health leaders to make face coverings mandatory again garnered nearly 40,000 signatures by Monday morning.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement he would not make any efforts to enforce the mandate.

"It is each person's responsibility to wear a face covering and follow other recommended safeguards, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19,'' Barnes said. "It is not law enforcement's responsibility to enforce it.''

Barnes said he expects residents to "continue to use common sense approaches for the benefit of their own health, as well as the collective health of other county residents.''

"We must do what is necessary to stop the transmission of COVID-19, enabling us to further open remaining businesses, places of recreation and the hospitality industry,'' Barnes said.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the Health Care Agency director and interim chief health officer, who rolled back a previous county mandate for facial coverings, said recent research shows they are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

"The mask is to protect others, to protect your neighbors,'' Chau said. "And from a public health point of view, we want to protect our neighbors.''

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett told City News Service the state issued a mandate requiring face coverings because "the governor is watching what's happening in other states that have opened up their economies prior to California opening up its economy -- Arizona, Texas and Florida -- and those states are experiencing significant increases in COVID-19 and hospitalizations. Therefore, I think the governor decided that he needed to change the face-covering policy for California in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.''

Bartlett noted, "We are still experiencing a number of hospitalizations and deaths from skilled nursing facilities'' and community transmission is also on the rise'' in the county.

RELATED: Faith, business and labor union leaders request renewed mask order in Orange County

"If we continue to have spikes in positivity rates and hospitalizations, one of my greatest fears is we would have to potentially shut down our economies again,'' Bartlett said.

Chau said the "hot spots'' of Santa Ana and Anaheim "keep me up at night'' with concern. He said about two weeks ago, a task force was formed among officialswith the county and both cities to discuss ways to tackle the rising case counts.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said at a news conference that officials were "reviewing'' the governor's order. Then she told reporters she had "good news'' that on Friday, nail salons, massage parlors, tattoo shops and other like services were opening again to the public.

The state last Friday authorized the reopening of nail salons on June 19. Workers and customers will be required to wear face coverings, according to the state guidelines.

Steel downplayed the rising hospitalization and death rates, noting that half of the fatalities are from nursing homes. She also said the hospitalization rates are below the state standards.

Chau said the county's hospitalization rate is 10.2 per 100,000 population, about the same as San Bernardino County and below Los Angeles County's 13.8 per 100,000. Sixty-four percent of the county's hospital beds are occupied, Chau said.

County health officials reported 413 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, by far O.C.'s highest single-day total since the pandemic began.

The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported 10 additional deaths, bringing the county's totals to 9,988 cases and 267 fatalities.

The numbers come at the end of what county officials called their deadliest week yet, with 55 COVID-19 deaths reported between June 13-19.

WATCH: How to make face masks from materials found at home

Southern California resident Jennifer Ruvalcaba, known as Randomly Riley on Instagram, shows us how to make face masks at home.

City News Service contributed to this report.