Nevada County officials respond to statewide mask guidance
Special to The Union
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement last week that Californians must wear masks in a number of public settings was met with a wide range of responses on the part of both officials and private citizens, in particular with regards to its enforceability.
Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum published a Facebook post on the matter Saturday, in which she said the governor “does not have the unilateral power to make such orders,” going on to add that the local police chief and officers “will not, and cannot, cite anybody for not wearing a mask, because the law does not exist.”
Before concluding her statement with links to the California Department of Public Health’s updated guidance and website, Senum stated that “nobody can be forced to wear a mask outside, in a business, or as an employee or customer.”
With regards to whether the updated mask guidance holds any power to be enforced, Ali Bay at the California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center said, “This is a statewide requirement and flows from the same legal authority as all of the other state public health orders.”
While the updated statewide mandate last week — a document titled “Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings” — sparked some debate as to whether “guidance” could be enforced as though it were an executive order, enforcement of it is backed by a March executive order made by the governor.
In that executive order, Newsom states that “all residents are directed to immediately heed the current State public health directives, which I ordered the Department of Public Health to develop for the current statewide status of COVID-19.”
That executive order is enforceable according to Government Code section 8665, which states that any person who “refuses or willfully neglects to obey any lawful order … shall be guilty of a misdemeanor,” and upon conviction may be punishable by a fine.
“At the Sheriff’s Office, we are certainly taking the approach of education over enforcement, so we are encouraging the public to wear their face masks and basically just trying to provide education as to why it’s recommended,” said Nevada County sheriff’s spokesman Andrew Trygg.
Regarding mask requirements for employees and customers, Trygg said private businesses are able to enforce guidelines they choose. “We’ve all seen the ‘right to refuse service’ sign that most businesses have, and they certainly have the right to refuse service within their own private business.”
“Right now, we are asking everyone to do what they can do to protect our vulnerable populations and keep our businesses safely open,” said Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chair Heidi Hall, adding that “wearing face coverings, keeping our physical distance, washing our hands frequently and staying informed on the most recent recommendations” are all key ways to do so.
County Administrative Analyst Taylor Wolfe said in an email that, as many local businesses lead the effort to advocate for face covering mandates, the county has seen a drastic increase in the number of people wearing face coverings in businesses since the state mandate.
“Our goal is that education will achieve compliance,” said Wolfe. She added, however, that the county can take additional steps if this does not work.
If continued complaints are received of a business not following guidelines, potential responses include a cease and desist letter and then, administrative citation or notice of violation, according to Wolfe.
“Our last resort could be to file a temporary restraining order if the business continues to not be willing to come into compliance for community and employee health and safety,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said the county continues to follow the expertise of health officials on how to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Our health experts point toward masks being an important piece to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” she said.
Victoria Penate is a freelance writer for The Union.
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