Mayor of Nevada City in Northern California lashes out at face coverings rule

Alex Wigglesworth
Shoppers wearing masks at the Orange Circle in Orange on Thursday.  (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The mayor of a Northern California city lashed out Saturday at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order requiring face coverings.

“As you go about your day today, KNOW there is NO LAW that Orders you to Wear a Mask,” Reinette Senum, mayor of Nevada City, wrote in a Facebook post. “Our Governor does NOT have that unilateral power to make such orders. While I know the HEADLINES over the last couple days have stated something entirely different, that is because journalism is dead.”

Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public or high-risk settings. Under state law, residents who violate the order could be charged with a misdemeanor and potentially face a fine, according to the Newsom administration.

Still, many law enforcement agencies have said they won’t enforce the order.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Thursday he believed it’s not the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure compliance with the state’s mask order. Instead, he said, “it is each person’s responsibility to wear a face covering and follow other recommended safeguards in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department said that it recommended that everyone follow the governor’s order. “However, due to the minor nature of the offense, the potential for negative outcomes during enforcement encounters, and anticipating the various ways in which the order may be violated, it would be inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce the Governor's mandate,” Sheriff Scott Jones said in a statement. “Accordingly, the Sheriff's Office will not be doing so.”

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told the Fresno Bee that her agency won’t take enforcement actions against those not wearing face coverings because it “does not have the resources to direct toward this type of enforcement.”

Law enforcement officials in Tulare, Modoc and Placer counties have made similar statements.

Nevada County, which has a population of fewer than 100,000 people, has been less hard-hit by the coronavirus than some other areas of the state, reporting just 75 cases and one death as of this week.

Still, the rate at which new cases have been identified has accelerated in the last few weeks, officials said. Ten new cases were reported Wednesday, the highest one-day increase in new cases since the pandemic began, the county said in a news release.

"Many of the new cases are the result of people thinking it is safe to have social gatherings, or relax social distancing precautions," the county said. "This has resulted in multiple cases in Nevada, Placer, and across state lines."

Even before the governor's statewide order, multiple counties, including Los Angeles, had already required that residents wear face coverings in most public places.

Some have framed the requirements as a political issue, prompting heated clashes.

A group of protesters that include anti-vaccine activists recently demonstrated against the mask orders outside the home of Contra Costa County’s public health officer.

Earlier this month, Orange County’s chief health officer resigned amid intense pushback against her countywide mask order and threats against her that prompted a security detail. Her predecessor then rescinded the order.

Last week, a group of Orange County union leaders who gathered to call on health officials to reinstate the order was shouted down by a group of protesters who reportedly pushed speakers and tried to hit them in the head with signs.

Newsom said Friday that both state and local regulatory agencies could be called upon to “exercise a little bit of persuasion” in getting people to comply with the face coverings order. On the state level, that could include the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which enforces workplace safety requirements, and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which regulates the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants.

“We’re not looking to fine people. We’re looking to educate people, encourage people,” Newsom said. “And to the extent that people flaunt and abuse, which may be the exception, then we have many tools in the tool kit.”

Times staff writers Phil Willon, Hannah Fry and Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.