Costa Mesa undoes the strings on a mask mandate that caused controversy but netted few citations

A sign in November 2020 along Fair Drive warns residents and visitors that "no mask = $100 fine" in Costa Mesa.
A sign posted in November 2020 along Fair Drive warns residents and visitors that “no mask = $100 fine” in Costa Mesa. City lawmakers on Tuesday repealed the mandate.
(File Photo)

A mandate requiring facial coverings for all who enter Costa Mesa — in place for more than a year and fuel for frequent debates between pandemic rule followers and anti-maskers — was repealed Tuesday in favor of less strict state guidelines.

City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison imposed the measure in April 2020 to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus after declaring a local state of emergency that March. In a social media campaign last summer, signs warning “No Mask = $100 Fine” inspired some residents to post bare-faces photos in a dare to local police.

While members of the city’s code enforcement team regularly cited local businesses, including some individuals inside those establishments, for failing to comply with the order, such transgressions netted few citations by members of the Costa Mesa Police Department.

Aside from the Nov. 17 arrest of a man who reportedly entered a grocery store on the 1800 block of Newport Boulevard without a mask and became confrontational with police officers, only one other citation was issued by police.

Spokeswoman Roxi Fyad confirmed a citation was issued on Sept. 2 at a location on the 400 block of Fair Drive, to an individual seen at a business complex without a facial covering. City staff could not provide details Wednesday on the total number of businesses cited by code enforcement officers during the pandemic.

Farrell-Harrison told City Council members Tuesday while the mask mandate was a bold move made to protect residents, recent downward virus trends and changes in health recommendations made in advance of a complete reopening of California businesses on June 15 made it an appropriate time to consider amending the order.

“With the easing of the restrictions that all are accompanying the reopening of the economy, we wanted just to revise our mask mandate so that we’re consistent with the state,” she said.

Instead, residents will be advised to follow recommendations put forth by the California Department of Public Health. As such, fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear facial coverings in most situations starting on June 15.

Unvaccinated residents will be asked to wear masks outdoors when social distance cannot be maintained and in indoor settings outside of their own homes, according to state guidelines.

Councilman Manuel Chavez, elected in November 2018, looked back on the necessity of imposing a mask mandate during a global crisis and found in its repeal a fitting bookend.

“We were one of the first cities to push for a mask mandate, because we care about the citizens of Costa Mesa and were doing our best to ensure everyone’s safety. [And now], we’re going back to normalcy, or as normal as we can be,” he said.

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