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‘We are not the mask police': Calif. deputies won’t enforce health order

Sheriff Don Barnes said his deputies will not enforce a health order requiring all residents wear face coverings while in public

Luke Money
Los Angeles Times

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — Orange County’s sheriff said Tuesday that his department has no intention of enforcing a recent health order requiring residents and visitors to wear face coverings in public.

“We are not the mask police — nor do I intend to be the mask police,” Sheriff Don Barnes told the county Board of Supervisors. “I think what we have seen repeatedly throughout the community is Orange County residents acting responsibly.”

Barnes said the department’s focus has been education, noting that “Orange County residents are adults.”

“They can take the protective measures as they see fit,” he said. “We have not dealt with these issues through enforcement, and I will direct my staff not to direct any enforcement toward the … mask requirement.”

The sheriff’s declaration came in response to a question from board Chairwoman Michelle Steel, who asked how the department planned to enforce a health order issued Friday. The requirement mandates that Orange County residents wear cloth face coverings while in a public place, at work or visiting a business where they are unable to stay at least six feet apart.

The mask ordinance is similar to one implemented in Los Angeles County more than a month ago, where authorities also have said they hoping the public will comply voluntarily.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva and LAPD Chief Michel Moore said they had no plans to cite anyone for not wearing a mask, but authorities would offer a few words of encouragement — from behind their own face coverings

Orange County health officials had previously said wearing facial coverings is an important tool in the fight against COVID-19, but they had stopped short of mandating such efforts.

The new mask requirement came just before Orange County received state approval to more broadly lift coronavirus-related business restrictions and resume in-restaurant dining and in-store shopping.

Orange County on Tuesday reported 110 new COVID-19 infections, bringing its cumulative total to 5,578.

That figure includes an estimated 1,995 people who have recovered from the disease — the first time the Orange County Health Care Agency has enumerated that data point.

However, officials said the number is “only an estimate and should be interpreted with caution.”

“While every case of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is reported to HCA, there is no practical way to find out if they’ve recovered,” officials wrote on the county’s data dashboard.