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Urgent warnings to wear masks but so far only modest enforcement

A Manhattan Beach police officer lets Michael Aranda know the bike path is closed.
A Manhattan Beach police officer lets Michael Aranda know the bike path is closed earlier this month. The city became the latest to say it would fine people for not wearing masks in public.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

As coronavirus cases began spiking in California last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered people to wear masks when in public settings.

But even as more Californians are covering their faces as protection against COVID-19, compliance is spotty at best. Many law enforcement agencies say they plan to educate those found without masks but not issue fines.

Still as outbreaks continue to worsen, some communities are beginning to pledge more aggressive action against scofflaws. This week, Manhattan Beach became the latest city to say it would fine people not wearing masks in public areas. Under the order, failing to wear a face covering is subject to an administrative citation, with fines of $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $350 for each one after that.

“The drastic increase in positive COVID-19 cases in our city and around Los Angeles County have shown us that additional measures must be taken to make it clear to the public that face coverings are essential right now,” Mayor Richard Montgomery said this week. “The time for warnings is over. Face coverings must be worn when you are outside of your home in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

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A few other cities have taken similar action but so far have issued relatively few citations.

Capt. Edward Ramirez of the West Hollywood sheriff’s station said Friday that deputies “have issued a total of 12 citations to people without masks” in the city.

“That said, each person cited was provided a mask to wear by deputy personnel,” he wrote in an email.

Beverly Hills spokesman Keith Sterling said one citation has been issued there.

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“Our code enforcement and police officers have had hundreds of contacts with the public in recent days and most have complied when educated about our face-covering rules,” he wrote in an email Friday.

Some law enforcement officials have balked at enforcing the rules, saying they don’t see themselves as the mask police. But with Newsom’s statewide order, some of these agencies said they are doing their best.

In a statement last week, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said his department is taking a practical approach with the resources it has available.

“With limited exceptions, not wearing a face covering is a violation of the public health order, but it is not a practical application of a criminal law violation,” Barnes wrote. “As many other industries are gaining compliance through an education-first approach, deputies will continue to educate the public about the statewide face-covering requirement and will request voluntary compliance.”

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Experts say masks are essential when people go out in public, such as to shop or go to medical appointments, and when close to other people at the beach or park.

The pleas to wear masks come as California marked a grim week in both coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations.

Los Angeles County public health officials reported more than 4,500 new coronavirus cases Thursday, shattering the record for the highest single-day increase in new infections.

“If you do the math, it is easy to see why the alarm,” Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County health director, said in a statement.

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reported 2,885 new cases and 62 deaths on Friday, for a total of 150,319 positive confirmed cases and 4,047 deaths, matching the expectations from the county to surpass 4,000 deaths by the end of the week.

“The simple truth of this fight is that this virus is affecting more and more of us every day,” Garcetti said in a Friday evening briefing.


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