Huntington Beach City Council votes to ban mask and COVID vaccine mandates

Wednesday, September 6, 2023
Huntington Beach council votes to ban mask, COVID vaccine mandates
The Huntington Beach City Council voted to ban universal mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the city.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- The Huntington Beach City Council narrowly voted Wednesday to ban universal mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the city.

The declaration passed with a 4-3 vote. The meeting adjourned at 2:48 a.m.

Those who've tested positive for COVID-19 would still be required to wear masks in certain settings.

Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark introduced the motion at Tuesday night's meeting. In the declaration, Van Der Mark said mask mandates imposed at City Hall and other parts of the city in 2020 and 2021 "unnecessarily limited the freedoms of the citizens of Huntington Beach -- even those who were not around anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 or at risk of any exposure."

"The city should ban broad universal mask and vaccine mandates by declaring the city to be a 'no mask, no vaccine mandate city'," she added.

MORE: It seems like everyone has COVID. Why this wave may be worse than official data suggests

With a combination of vaccination and infections, the U.S. population now has a strong level of immunity against COVID-19.

Some councilmembers brought up the science behind mask wearing.

"To say that masks don't work goes against years and years and years of data. And you can tell that to every paint sprayer, to every surgeon, to everybody in a full Class A hazmat suit," Councilman Dan Kalmick said.

The resolution asks the city manager to return to the council with a resolution at the next regular meeting declaring the city to be a "no mask and no vaccine mandate city" as a response to COVID-19 or any variants. "Individuals, whether at City Hall or in the private sector, should have a right to choose whether to wear a mask or get vaccinated or boosted," it reads.

"Government overreach -- that's what it's about," said Van Der Mark, referring to the mandates. "People who are denied the basic right to work, put food on the table and pay their bills."

Others questioned why the discussion was being had in the first place, noting that before the vote the city's policy did not include a mask or vaccine mandate.

Huntington Beach does not require masks for city staff at the moment.

Los Angeles County is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and with Labor Day weekend upon us, health officials are urging residents to follow common-sense safety precautions.

"There was no impetus for this. We've received no emails. This was strictly a political maneuver to rile folks up to gain support because these folks are losing support because of their very unpopular positions," Kalmick said.

"This item was a distraction," Kalmick said. "It just seems like it's a made up thing. We might as well pass a ban against giants or UFOs or something. It's just nonsense."

"Waste of time," said Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton, who opposed the measure. "Massive waste of time. Sorry, folks."

Van Der Mark said the ban is to protect residents' individual liberties.

"If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you want to wear two, three masks, that's fine," she said. "If you want to be vaccinated, boosted. It should be up to you. The government should not impose these broad mandates on us."

Huntington Beach resident Kevin Davis said, "We already did it once. And did it really solve anything? No. People still died, people still got sick and people got better."

Another resident of the city, Charles Dickenson, said, "There's going to be those people that are looking to protect each other. And then there's going to be people that just had their businesses depleted and want to protect society that way."

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise again recently in Orange County and neighboring Los Angeles County, according to data from those county's health departments.

The number of hospital patients statewide who test positive for COVID-19 is also on the upswing after several weeks of decline, with 1,668 COVID-positive patients reported by the state health department in the latest data.

Would a potential county or state mask mandate impact Huntington Beach's ban? O.C. Health Care Agency Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said the health and safety of the public is the agency's priority when a contagious communicable disease is spreading in the community.

"Under the California Health and Safety Code, during an outbreak of a communicable disease, or upon the imminent and proximate threat of a communicable disease outbreak or epidemic that threatens the public's health, I have the duty to promptly notify and update governmental entities within Orange County about communicable diseases," Dr. Chinsio-Kwong said. "I am granted authority to issue orders deemed necessary to control the spread of communicable disease. Currently, conditions do no warrant a change in the local health order."

The O.C. Health Care Agency has reached out to the city of Huntington Beach to obtain the specific resolution to better understand why they decided to ban mask and vaccine mandates.

Van Der Mark said the resolution is being drafted and should be adopted when it is ready.

City News Service contributed to this report.