Orange County Is Still at War with Itself Over the Mask Mandate

A labor union is asking county officials to enforce the mandate as the sheriff’s department leaves it up to ”personal responsibility”

Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide mandate requiring most Californians to wear face masks outside of their homes has been in place since last week, but in Orange County, the battle over masks—and how the mandate should be enforced—rages on.

Orange County Labor Federation held a news conference on Monday morning to demand that county officials enforce Newsom’s mask order, pointing to the recent statewide spike in COVID-19 cases, which hit a single-day high in new infections last week.

The Labor Federation says many people simply are not complying with the order, which Governor Gavin Newsom issued last Thursday—not only requiring masks when indoors or using public transportation, but also outdoors when six-feet of separation cannot be maintained. At the moment, local authorities aren’t enforcing the rule. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, for instance, said last week that he has no intention of doing so.

“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 in a statement Thursday. “It is not law enforcement’s responsibility to enforce it.”

Barnes also said that residents should “continue to use common sense approaches for the benefit of their own health, as well as the collective health of other county residents,” adding, “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.”

Although a petition demanding that masks be made mandatory had received 40,000 signatures Monday, some find mandatory face coverings so invasive that Dr. Nichole Quick had to step down as the county public health officer earlier this month after critics of the county-wide mask mandate—which was subsequently rescinded—distributed her address and even issued what officials deemed a death threat. Her order was replaced with a “strong recommendation” to continue to cover one’s face.

The anti-mask set maintain that mask orders not only violate their civil liberties, but are also halting attempts to reopen businesses and restart the economy. County supervisor Lisa Bartlett, meanwhile, worries that a spike in cases would be worse for the economy than masks. “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.

Passions on both sides came to the surface last week when anti-mask residents interrupted a planned press conference where Orange County Labor Federation protested the rescinding of the county’s mask rule.

At another meeting after Dr. Quick resigned, Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau was barraged by questions from county elected officials.

“There’s always going to be community infection going on,” Supervisor Don Wagner said. “There’s always flu infection going on. Are you telling us masks, in your professional opinion, are going to be necessary until the end of time or until there’s a vaccine or what?”

In a new PSA released today, four former California governors—including Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson—joined Newsom in urging Californians to wear masks. “This isn’t over because your mall is open at 50 percent capacity,” Schwarzenegger says. “Do your part.”

RELATED: Masks Are Now Mandatory Throughout California, Governor Newsom Orders

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