Even though public health orders requiring people to wear masks or face coverings anytime they are in public are in effect in the state of California and city of Los Angeles, many people are ignoring orders to actually wear them, said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District.
The councilman said wearing face coverings is among the simplest things people can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet many people are opposed to wearing them or disregard the law. He added that the city of Los Angeles needs to get tougher on people who refuse to comply, similar to Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, where citations are being issued and fines are being levied.
“I see a lot of people walking around, walking their dogs, chatting with their neighbors, not social distanced and not wearing masks,” Koretz said. “That certainly is an opportunity for a spread. I see it both outdoors in my neighborhood and with people waiting for coffee or takeout in lines and at a variety of other places. [Wearing masks] has been very spotty.”
Koretz introduced a motion on July 29 to put some teeth in the public health order regarding face coverings, which was issued in May by Mayor Eric Garcetti. Koretz is calling for more enforcement with citations and escalating fines for repeat offenders. A first violation could result in a $100 penalty, followed by a $250 for a second violation and $500 for a third violation. Subsequent offenses could be cited as misdemeanors, Koretz said.
The councilman introduced the motion last week but it has yet to be considered by a council committee because of reduced schedules during the pandemic. Committee approval is a precursor to it going before the City Council. If approved, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s would draft an ordinance and it would be sent back to the council for approval. Koretz said that takes too much time during a pandemic, and there needs to be urgency in implementing more enforcement.
“I’ve been a strong proponent of residents wearing masks to protect themselves and others from contracting the disease since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m glad that the mayor has added the requirement to his Safer L.A. Order, but it is past time to actually enforce mask wearing if people will not protect themselves, their families and their neighbors, especially the most vulnerable,” Koretz said. “It has been estimated by experts that if it got to 80%-plus mask wearing, we would be able to slow the spread by over 50%.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer supports enforcement of face coverings and has been working on ways to ensure more compliance, spokesman Rob Wilcox said.
“He envisions a task force of non-LAPD city staff focused on various public locations in the city, offering masks to people who aren’t wearing them and citing them if they refuse to wear face coverings,” Wilcox said. “These would be administrative citations with monetary consequences.”
The cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood have been issuing administrative citations for non-compliance since early July. In Beverly Hills, the fine is $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for a third and subsequent offenses. In West Hollywood, fines and fees total $300 for a first offense.
According to the city of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 website, face coverings must be worn by everyone except for children under the age of 2 and people with certain disabilities. Enforcement is being conducted by city staff and volunteers with the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team, who are deployed to locations where complaints have been received about non-compliance with the mask order. If voluntary compliance is not achieved, the information about violations is forwarded to the city attorney and LAPD for follow up. What that means is unclear. A request for a comment on mask wearing enforcement was not answered by Garcetti’s press office. The LAPD continues to take an educational approach and has not received directives to start issuing citations.
Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, said masks are effective and he is open to looking at how compliance can be increased.
“We know that wearing masks is one of the simplest and most effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 – and we must get more folks to take this seriously,” Ryu said. “All options are on the table, but I am looking to find what will be most effective. We need to consider creative ways to show people why wearing a mask is so important and lead by example, requiring city staff to wear masks while on the job.”
Other city leaders have also recently spoken about the importance of face coverings, particularly in businesses. Spikes in COVID-19 cases and the continuance of public health orders and lockdowns has a detrimental effect on the economy.
“Small business owners and their employees are risking their lives to stay afloat in the midst of this economic and public health crisis,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, 10th District. “Wearing a mask saves lives, and this simple, common-sense law will save lives and allow us to beat this virus sooner rather than later.”
Koretz hopes the city cuts through the red tape and starts enforcing face coverings as soon as possible.
“If we want to successfully reopen our businesses and get back to close to normal lives, it will never happen without a vaccine or universal wearing of masks,” Koretz said. “At this point, it seems that issuing tickets might be the only way to save more lives. The soft consequence of a ticket might be the key to avoid the very dangerous consequences of contracting COVID-19. Such a modest act would save thousands of lives and move us toward controlling this epidemic. We must make it happen.”
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