Orange County Cities Take Wide-Ranging Approaches to Mask Enforcement

November 20, 2020 Updated: November 22, 2020

IRVINE, Calif.—A flood of new COVID-19 cases has prompted the City of Irvine, California, to double its fine for those flouting mask rules.

The city on Nov. 16 amended an existing executive order, and in the process, toughened penalties for anyone refusing to cover up in public. Those rebuffing the mask requirement now face a fine of up to $1,000, up from the previous $500 maximum ticket.

An Irvine Police Department spokeswoman said officers have yet to issue a citation to an individual, although they did fine a noncompliant local business. For the most part, she said, residents are willing to adhere to the rules.

“People know that the numbers are up and they want to keep business open and they want to keep their kids in school if they’ve already started school,” Sgt. Karie Davis told The Epoch Times. “I think for the most part, people are on board and they want to keep being compliant so we don’t have to completely shut down and go to curfew.”

New State Rules

Irvine’s fine increase follows a state-level expansion on face-covering mandates. 

The state guidance, updated on Nov. 16 from its original form in June, asks Californians to wear face coverings any time they leave the home, rather than strictly in high-risk situations.

The tightening of the rules followed a surge of new COVID-19 cases throughout California. 

Orange County entered the most restrictive COVID tier on Nov. 16, prompting the closure of indoor gyms and movie theaters. Restaurants were forced to shut their indoor dining rooms, but can still serve patrons outdoors, and accommodate takeout orders.

There were 582 new cases of the virus reported in Orange County on Nov. 19, and nine deaths.

Under the new state mandate, masks aren’t required for those working in an office solo, or those riding in a car either alone or with members of their household.

As well, those actively eating or drinking can remove face coverings, as long as they’re at least six feet away from non-household members. While outside, people must wear a mask unless they can safely maintain six feet of distance from other non-household members. They are expected to carry masks with them at all times.

Additional exemptions exist for medical reasons, and circumstances where masks must be temporarily removed to perform a service, such as a dental checkup. Children younger than two years old should not wear a mask due to risk of suffocation. 

A complete list of exemptions can be found on the California Department of Health’s website.

A Different Approach

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) won’t enforce the state’s latest mask order, said Sgt. Dennis Breckner.

“We are choosing to divert our sources to more important things,” Breckner told The Epoch Times. “As it relates to masks … we’re not going to take the position of enforcement. We encourage their use, but it’s not something we’re going to divert resources [for, from other] calls for service.”

There’s nothing in the California Penal Code regulating health-related face coverings, so cracking down on maskless rebels would be tricky, said Breckner.

“We don’t create our own laws. We simply enforce the laws that are on the books, and the most we can do right now is file a report for violation of a health order,” he said. “The mask issue is, as you know, a very difficult mandate to navigate.”

Even though the OCSD won’t pursue complaints about social gatherings or masks, it doesn’t mean they don’t care, said Breckner.

“Of course we encourage people to wear their true face coverings, and that residents follow the guidelines of the health officials.”

The Newport Beach Police Department (NPBD) is taking an informational approach, said spokeswoman Heather Rangel.

“NBPD will continue to focus on educating the public,” she told The Epoch Times via email. “NBPD has found that people have been compliant during interactions.”

Although Irvine doubled its mask fine, it doesn’t mean police are taking a hard-fisted approach, said Davis. The department’s first course of action is to request compliance, which they almost always receive.

“We have not had to issue any individual person a citation,” Davis told The Epoch Times.  “If an officer approaches, we give them a fair warning and say, ‘Please put the mask on,’ and they comply at that point.”

In the City of Costa Mesa, police can issue $100 fines to those refusing to wear a mask. City spokesman Tony Dodero said Nov. 19 that although the fine ordinance is still in place, police have only cited one person.

“We had a man who created a disturbance at a local market and he was cited for not wearing a mask,” Dodero said.