Nevada City mayor supports mask rule, but has skepticism |

Nevada City mayor supports mask rule, but has skepticism

After voting to affirm the state’s mask mandate in a special meeting Tuesday, and a week since sparking a controversy by publicly claiming California Gov. Gavin Newsom lacked the legal authority to make such an order, Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum said the public should not be surprised by her vote.

Despite her Facebook posts, Senum said she voted with the rest of the council to unanimously support a resolution encouraging the public to heed mask guidelines because she was never against wearing them per se, but wanted people to be aware of potential health risks and government intrusion.

“The original Facebook post that I made was specifically pointed toward the overreach of the governor and his orders and was pretty much misconstrued in all the headlines,” she said Wednesday. “I’m not saying don’t wear a mask; I’m saying it’s dangerous. It has its own risks.”

Senum’s posts questioning the masks requirement led to Tuesday’s meeting after the City Council received hundreds of comments calling for the city to address her statements. In total, the council received over 250 comments. Around 100 of those came from Nevada City residents either asking for her resignation or censure. Most comments, both those supporting and opposing Senum, appeared to come from western Nevada County, though the council received comments from as far away as Glendale and Los Angeles County.

“I’m not telling you not to wear a mask. I’m telling you do so at your own risk.”Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum

News media across the state, including the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle reported on her posts stating the governor lacked the authority to mandate mask be worn, which some business owners say has led to cancellations from out-of-town readers who’d planned to visit the area.

During the meeting, county Health and Human Services Agency Director Ryan Gruver provided a presentation outlining the authority of the order, the medical underpinnings of its justification, and potential exemptions for people unable to wear masks due to health issues.

Senum said the explanation about how to wear masks properly, exemptions and alternatives are crucial in being able to accommodate all citizens.

“People do not wear their masks properly. These are professionals who have been highly trained in how to wear a mask properly, but Joe Blow public has not been trained in how to wear a mask properly,” she said. “If this is gong to be for a long time, we have to make this work for everybody. We need at the very least for people who can’t wear a mask to have an alternative. Period.”

According to the state guidance document, people are exempted from wearing a mask if they are under 2 years old, have a medical or mental health condition preventing it, are eating at a restaurant or involved in outdoor work or recreation. The guidance also notes that those exempted from wearing a face covering should instead don a non-restrictive face shield with a drape covering the bottom, if their condition permits.

“I don’t think most people know that,” Senum said at the meeting, and suggested a clarification from the Council that face shields can be used as alternative to masks for those who cannot wear them. “I don’t think most employers know that, I don’t think a lot of employees know that, and I think that would take a lot of heat off of this because people just aren’t going to wear masks; they can’t.”

Council members declined to add the clarification, after City Attorney Crissy Hodgson noted the use of face shields were included under the governor’s exemptions in the order. 

“In my opinion, everything is in the order. Everything is there for people to read,” said Council member Duane Strawser. “I’m not comfortable with us coming in and tweaking and changing the language … The order’s there. I think the question is whether or not we’re going to support the governor or not.”

The council made plans to address public comments calling for Senum’s censure or resignation. Those issues, however, will not be taken up at the next council meeting, because new council members Daniela Fernandez and Doug Fleming will be seated and the agenda will be kept light.

The public comments are now expected to be addressed at the City Council’s July 22 meeting.

Senum also encouraged the council to create a committee to promote more holistic health practices.

“I would like to see a committee formed in Nevada City — we could be the lead ­— on more holistic approaches to boosting our immune system,” she said at the meeting. “If we’re just going to keep talking mask and gloves and social distancing and quarantining, that’s really not about health. That’s protecting yourself, but that’s not about health.”

Senum also expressed support for updating the county’s coronavirus dashboard, which she said is misleading for not including information about asymptomatic tests, among other data.

“There’s a lot of things that are not being discussed. We have a right to ask questions, we have a right to question authority, we have a right to look at the science,” Senum said. “I’m not telling you not to wear a mask. I’m telling you do so at your own risk.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email or call 530-477-4229.

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