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Rebellion in Inland Empire over masks: ‘I’m not afraid. ... People get old and they die’

People cheer rescinding of health orders at a Riverside County supervisors meeting.
Riverside County residents who want public health orders rescinded cheer during an emergency meeting of the Board of Supervisors on May 8.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

How important is it to wear face coverings in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus?

Many health experts say it’s essential and have required the use of masks when conducting essential business. Some cities, such as Beverly Hills, have gone so far as to mandate the wearing of face coverings anytime residents leave their homes.

But there is also pushback in some California communities.

Riverside County officials voted unanimously late Friday to rescind all of the county’s stay-at-home orders that went beyond Gov. Gavin Newsom’s, including a face covering requirement that was one of the first in the state.

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Officials voted for the use of face coverings to be “strongly recommended” by the county, instead of being mandated, as health director Cameron Kaiser had implemented last month. The use of masks is only a recommendation on the state level.

During the meeting, 5th District Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said he didn’t feel like he needed to wear a mask, citing conflicting evidence of the benefits of face coverings, but that he would continue to do so if certain businesses required it.

Wearing masks will help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Here’s how to do it right.

“That’s my personal choice,” he said. “I think that people are smart enough to make [that] decision themselves.”

A 78-year-old man, who spoke in support of rescinding the order on face coverings, agreed with Hewitt, saying he wears a mask only when he’s around people who are afraid. “I’m not afraid. ... People get old and they die.”

Neighboring San Bernardino County rescinded its mandatory face-covering order last week.

“The County strongly urges everyone to continue wearing face coverings in public to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and businesses may still require face coverings for customers and employees,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman said in a statement.

Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting
Jessica Schuurnans of Riverside County writes down her comments she will present to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors during a emergency meeting."It’s time to open California, " she said.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

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But other communities are getting more aggressive with requirements on the use of face coverings.

Beginning Monday, anyone traveling through Los Angeles International Airport must wear a mask or face covering.

On top of the LAX mask rule — a move that Mayor Eric Garcetti said aligned with requirements by many major airlines — the mayor announced that, starting Monday, anyone riding a city bus was also required to wear a face covering.

Los Angeles leaders are exploring whether to require residents to use masks or other facial coverings whenever they leave their homes — for instance, while strolling down the sidewalk or sitting in a public park — a proposal championed by City Councilman Paul Koretz as a way to prevent new infections.

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“The last thing we need is another spike in cases to set us back as we’re trying to move forward,” Koretz said.

LAX and many airlines are now requiring face coverings to avoid coronavirus spread. TSA agents will don them too.

The council has not yet decided to draft such a law, but voted Wednesday to ask city staffers to report back on health guidelines for wearing masks, what requirements have been imposed by other cities and how such rules might be enforced.

“People still walk dogs. They still ride bicycles. They still may stop and chat with their neighbors,” Koretz said in an interview. “This would reduce the spread.”

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Koretz said that, under such an ordinance, people would be required to have the masks either already on their faces or close at hand so they could put them on quickly whenever they approached someone from outside their household.

The councilman believes mandating masks will help keep people who are infected but asymptomatic from unknowingly transmitting the virus. He pointed to the Czech Republic, which imposed a similar requirement, as an example of how the mandate could reduce new infections.

At Wednesday’s meeting, some council members remained uncertain: Councilman Gil Cedillo raised concerns about racially discriminatory enforcement of mask rules against African Americans.

Councilman John Lee also expressed reluctance, saying that, in his district, people seemed to be behaving responsibly to maintain social distancing and “already feel confined as it is.”

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The Bay Area and many other counties also require masks when conducting essential business like shopping.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.


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