Government / Politics

County-mandated facial covering order could come as soon as April 24

Coverings would be required in places where it isn’t possible to maintain social distancing.

As the county begins to discuss easing shelter-in-place restrictions, it’s also expected to implement an order requiring people to wear facial coverings in public. A final draft of the order could be delivered as soon as April 24 at 8 a.m., County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa said at the April 21 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Public Health Officer Dr. Martin Fenstersheib said that because the coronavirus is mostly spread through droplets, requiring residents to wear a facial covering such as a mask or bandana provides extra protection. He said because there are asymptomatic and presymptomatic people, the virus can spread unknowingly from those who carry the virus but don’t show symptoms and people who carry the virus and will eventually show symptoms, respectively.

“As we are moving to ease and open up things eventually down the road, as we do that safely, as people interact more with each other because of what we will do, then it makes good sense to require these facial coverings,” he said, “which people are already getting used to, I hope, in places where people are in contact with other people.”

Fenstersheib said the order would only require residents to wear facial coverings in places where it isn’t possible to maintain social distancing, such as going to the grocery store and other essential businesses, riding public transportation and participating in non-organized outdoor activities.

“If you’re with people close by that you can’t necessarily maintain perfect social distancing, then you want to be protected and you want to protect them,” he said. 

Following Fenstersheib’s update, a majority of supervisors voiced support for the order. Although Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz pushed to implement the order as soon as possible, others expressed concerns about code enforcement, timing of the order, and the process of labeling a business as essential.

Not following the proposed order could result in a misdemeanor violation and six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, which Supervisor Mark Medina said he found “pretty ridiculous.”

Supervisors Jim Gillio and Peter Hernandez were also opposed to incarcerating residents for not wearing a face covering in public.

“We don’t have the resources to lock the people up that truly deserve to be locked up right now, and our sheriff’s department is severely understaffed, our district attorney’s office is severely understaffed,” Gillio said. “This should definitely be an administrative citation if it came to that.”

Gillio said that the goal of the order is to educate residents and essential businesses on best practices to prevent COVID-19 infection. He added that the biggest challenge is providing facial coverings for the community. 

County Counsel Barbara Thompson said the order could include language that recommends citation as a means of enforcement. If supervisors wanted to change the citation structure, it would have to be through an emergency ordinance and be adopted at a special meeting.

In order for a resident to receive a misdemeanor, Thompson said the District Attorney’s Office must be willing to carry it to court. She cautioned, however, that both actions still allowed the District Attorney’s Office some discretion to pursue violators if there were egregious violations.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.