LOS ANGELES, CA — A Los Angeles City Council committee Friday explored ways of giving the city's mask mandate some teeth in the wake of worrisome spikes in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Among the options being studied are citations for people who go about in public without wearing masks. Los Angeles has seen an increase in positive test rates for COVID-19, an indication that the coronavirus is spreading the community. Increasingly, younger people account for more positive tests, creating the danger that asymptomatic people who are infections are unknowingly spreading the disease. The spike in community transmission of COVID-19 could threaten the city's economic reopening, health officials warned this week.
According to Councilman Paul Koretz, only about half the people he sees walking in public in his district are wearing masks despite orders from both Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom's June requiring people to wear them at all times when outside the home. Koretz advocated for a combination of citations and public education to get people to wear masks.
"I truly can't fathom the people who are politicizing mask wearing -- literally for some people, a choice that will (mean) life and death," Koretz said during the Health, Education, Neighborhoods, Parks, Arts and Recreation Committee. "It seems like we should start to consider it reckless endangerment of others to not wear a mask."
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, on the other hand, said citing people for not wearing masks may be "government overreach." O'Farrell said he would rather see a public education campaign to encourage people to wear masks.
The Los Angeles Police Department, mirroring other local law enforcement agencies, has said its goal is to have people voluntarily comply with public health directives, rather than resorting to punitive measures such as citations or fines.
Police have reported some cases that rose to the level of trespassing when people refused to put on a mask inside a private business, according to a report from the Chief Legislative Analyst's office.
Councilman David Ryu, who chairs the HENPAR Committee, asked several city departments to review current enforcement protocols and to make recommendations on how the city can encourage people to wear masks in public.
Ryu also recommended a report on formally requiring all city employees to wear masks whether indoors or outdoors, and for a report on whether federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding could be used for a public education campaign.
Health officials have said that wearing a mask does not necessarily protect the person wearing it, but will help prevent that person from spreading the disease to others.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.