Newsom hopes a 'bit of persuasion' will convince Californians to follow mask order

Phil Willon
Gov. Gavin Newsom carries meals made at Queen Sheba Ethiopian Cuisine to a delivery vehicle Friday in Sacramento. The restaurant is participating in the Great Plates Delivered program, which provides meals to seniors at risk for COVID-19.  (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday urged Californians to heed his new order requiring most residents to wear face coverings in public to help stem the spread of the coronavirus and said violators could face enforcement action.

The Democratic governor said both state and local regulatory agencies could be called upon to "exercise a little bit of persuasion." 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."

Newsom's comments came a day after he issued the mask order, which has a few exemptions, including children up to age 2 and people with a medical, mental health or developmental disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

The governor said he took the action to avoid having to shut down the state again with a broad stay-at-home order. Just two days ago, California saw a single-day high in COVID-19 cases.

“Based upon the number of people that were not practicing physical distancing, social distancing, the number of crowds we started to see form over the last few weeks, this mandate was in order,” Newsom said. “I hope that people take it very seriously, because we’re still in the first wave."

Under state law, residents who violate the order could be charged with a misdemeanor and potentially face a fine, according to the Newsom administration.

The likelihood of that happening, however, appears remote.

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.”

Last week, the Orange County public health officer resigned after weeks of verbal attacks, including a death threat, over her mandatory mask rules. Her replacement rescinded the rules amid intense pressure from the Board of Supervisors. Under Newsom's order, residents in that county must once again wear face coverings.

Newsom discussed the new mandate Friday after he toured Queen Sheba Ethiopian Cuisine in Sacramento. The restaurant is participating in the Great Plates Delivered program, which provides meals for seniors who cannot shop and cook for themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor said the program has provided more than 1.5 million meals in 36 jurisdictions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency renewed the program this week for another month, Newsom said.