Local governments and police departments in California have said in recent days that they will not enforce a mandate from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom that people in the state wear face masks in most public places, including outdoor areas where social distancing is not possible — despite emphasis from the governor about the importance of following the order.
The order comes as California faces a spike in coronavirus hospitalizations as it opens up its economy.
Local politicians and law enforcement officials throughout the state are saying that they won’t use the force of law to ensure people wear the masks, with varying degrees of outright resistance to the governor. Reinette Senum, the mayor of tiny Nevada City, for example, tore into Newsom in a Facebook post saying that “[o]ur Governor does NOT have the unilateral power to make such orders.” The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, on the other hand, said it recommends that people wear face masks and would work in “an educational capacity” to encourage mask-wearing, while not actually enforcing the mandate.
The at least one dozen municipal governments and police departments coming out against enforcement of the mask guidelines represent a significant schism between state and local authorities on how hard a line to take on the health measures.
Senum was perhaps the most adamant opponent of the mask order, generously using the caps lock button in her Saturday Facebook post.
“As you go about your day today, KNOW there is NO LAW that Orders you to Wear a Mask. Our Governor does NOT have that unilateral power to make such orders,” she said. “Ask our local Police chief or officers. They will not, and cannot, cite ANYBODY for not wearing a mask because the law does not exist.”
She added: “When you come across Newsom’s ‘orders’ online, you will see it’s linked to a page that does not lead you to his Executive Order, BUT to the California Department of Public Health GUIDELINES!”
Senum is correct that the mask mandate is part of a guideline and not an executive order. But, as pointed out by the Sacramento Bee, Newsom’s executive orders on the coronavirus pandemic mandate that citizens follow the state’s guidelines, essentially making them part of the orders.
Newsom made as much clear in a Friday tweet.
“REMINDER: CA, you are now REQUIRED to wear a mask in public spaces,” the governor said. “We’re seeing too many people with faces uncovered. Wearing a face covering is critical for keeping people safe and healthy, keeping businesses open and getting people back to work. Do your part. Wear your mask.”
But the executive orders and guidelines come with unclear enforcement mechanisms, especially for such minor offenses.
That’s part of the justification the Sacramento County Sherriff’s Office used when announcing it would not enforce the mask rule.
“[D]ue to the minor nature of the offense, the potential for negative outcomes during enforcement encounters, and anticipating the various ways in which the order may be violated, it would be inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce the Governor’s mandate,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. “Accordingly, the Sheriff’s Office will not be doing so. Rather, we will continue to operate in an educational capacity in partnership with the County Health Office.”
The Nevada City Police Department on Saturday essentially said it would follow the same procedures as Sacramento County on the mask mandate, saying the sheriff’s office’s statement “follows the beliefs and direction of the Nevada City Police Department.”
Outside of those two locales, officials with at least 10 other California governments said they would not be enforcing the face mask requirement.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said it is peoples’ responsibility to wear face masks, “[i]t is not law enforcement’s responsibility to enforce it,” according to ABC7.
Placer County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Angela Musallam, according to the Sacramento Bee, said that though they hope people follow the rule, “we have no interest in arresting or penalizing people who aren’t wearing masks in any way.”
The Placerville Police Department shared the state’s guidance but emphasized that it does not wish to be involved in enforcing it.
“Please do not call dispatch to report others not wearing masks,” it said in a Facebook post. “This is not a police issue.”
The Roseville Police Department released a similar statement, which said private businesses could require people to wear masks inside but that it would focus on “education and compliance” and that it would defer to other governmental agencies for mask complaints.
So did the Visalia Police Department, according to the Visalia Times Delta, and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Bordeaux, who said “our enforcement efforts will only include encouraging compliance.”
And Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, according to the Fresno Bee, won’t enforce the order. Nor will Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, the Angels Camp Police Department or the Citrus Heights Police Department, according to online posts from each.
Amid the rush of local officials saying they will not comply with the mask order, Newsom participated in a public service announcement with a number of former California governors, including Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, encouraging people to wear masks.
“Hey, maybe you didn’t vote for me,” Schwarzenegger says.
“Arnold, news flash. I voted for Gray Davis,” replies Gray Davis, who Schwarzenegger beat in an election to assume the governor’s office.
“But no matter who you voted for, or if you didn’t vote at all, it doesn’t change that Californians look out for each other,” chimes in Newsom. “Don’t let COVID win. Wear a mask… Just do it.”
The effort to encourage compliance with the mask order comes as Newsom’s order has come under sharp criticism from some on the right.
“[Newsom] does not have the authority to do this,” tweeted John Dennis, the Republican who got the most votes in the primary against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who now faces a Democratic general election opponent. “You may wish to cede him authoritarian power. I do not and will not.”
Joshua Scott, the Republican running to unseat California Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano, replied to Newson’s tweet announcing the order with a gif of Randy Jackson of American Idol saying “yeah, that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg.”
And Ben Shapiro, the popular right-leaning podcaster and founder of the conservative website Daily Wire, implied that enforcing the specific provisions of the detailed ban would not be feasible.
In addition to mandating that everyone older than 2 years old wear the masks, California’s guidance requires mask-wearing by all people working somewhere public, walking in common areas, while riding any public transportation and while “inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space.”
“I particularly look forward to Gavin Newsom attempting to enforce mask-wearing on my 4-year-old son,” Shapiro said. “Good luck with that.”
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and Nick Givas contributed to this report.