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Labor groups, residents ask Orange County officials to bring back mask mandate

Days after Orange County’s health officer announced he was nixing the requirement that everyone wear face coverings in public, supporters of the rule gathered to urge county officials to reconsider to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A coalition of 10 labor groups as well as faith leaders and residents held a press conference Tuesday, June 15, in front of the building where the Orange County Board of Supervisors meet – and where, in recent weeks, the county leaders have been listening to a parade of residents lambasting them over the mask mandate.

“We felt it was important to show the county Board of Supervisors that there’s also a large group of folks in Orange County who are concerned about the county not having a comprehensive health policy,” said Luis Aleman, a spokesman for the Orange County Labor Federation, which organized the event.

“We don’t want public health done in a random manner,” he said. “We want public health to be a consistent policy.”

The former county health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, issued an order in late May that made face coverings a requirement for anyone in stores, restaurants or other public venues where they couldn’t keep at least six feet away from others. Masks continue to be mandated for workers in some public-serving businesses, under a rule supervisors passed in April.

After weeks of public pressure from residents who argued requiring masks is useless, harmful or unconstitutional, Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau last week changed the rule to make masks a “strong recommendation.”

Chau, who also is temporarily acting as health officer after Quick’s abrupt resignation, has denied that residents’ complaints motivated him to change the policy, saying at the time it was bringing the county in line with state guidelines.

Orange County health officials reported 248 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total to nearly 9,000. The county estimates at least 46% of the total have recovered.

The daily average of newly reported cases over the last seven day was 207, the highest since the beginning of the outbreak, and the average number of people hospitalized with the disease has been trending up for weeks, although county hospital beds are nowhere near full.

The labor federation and others at Tuesday’s event – including the National Union of Healthcare Workers and Unite Here Local 11, whose members include hotel, airport and food service workers – aren’t alone in supporting masks for everyone. Several cities including Seal Beach and Costa Mesa have their own mask rules, and an online petition supporting a face covering mandate had more than 30,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Aleman said his group came to make its view known and deliver a letter supporting masks to supervisors, but mask opponents were yelling at and shoving them. He can understand why some people are frustrated, particularly with businesses being shut down and people losing their income, he said.

“We want this economy to open up too,” Aleman said. “What we don’t want is to have a second wave and, come September or October or earlier, to have to shut everything down.”

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes has publicly said he would not enforce mask rules, and supervisors seem unlikely to budge.

Supervisor Andrew Do, who proposed requiring essential workers to wear face coverings, said Tuesday that while he still believes grocery clerks and restaurant worker should use masks to protect themselves and their customers, “there’s a big difference between people moving about, especially outdoors, versus someone standing right over someone’s food.”

The county health order is consistent with state and federal recommendations, he said, adding: “If you are inviting the board to consider basically doing our own thing using our own reasoning, it is a slippery slope – which part of (state rules) do we follow and which part we don’t?”

Source: Orange County Register

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