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Village mask-wearing rules tweaked as pandemic continues

Want to take out the trash, pick up the mail, go to the carport, walk Fido or play badminton in the park? You’ll have to wear a mask — face-coverings are required in all public spaces.

But now, with new rules passed by Laguna Woods Village officials on July 28, the first-time fine for non-compliance has been reduced from $50 to zero. There will still be escalating fines — up to $250 — for repeated rule breakers.

With the original mandate, which went into effect July 6, Laguna Woods Village was one of the first major entities in Orange County to put some teeth behind Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state-wide order requiring masks in all public spaces. The enforcement policy was approved by its multiple governing boards.

A rule that exempts residents exercising in recently opened sports areas and pools from masks as long as they practice six-foot social distancing remains in effect, but others were changed.



Eileen Paulin, Laguna Woods spokeswoman, said those original rules were always meant to be updated.

“The first version of the emergency resolution was passed on short notice when the County was in the midst of a major upswing in cases,” Paulin said in an email. “Four boards had to approve it (that is 41 different opinions and points of view). The groups passed the resolution with the intention of revisiting it when there was more time for discussion. The result is the final resolution.”

Some residents may still have questions. Does the mask exemption apply to joggers in public areas, particularly those that do not allow for six-foot social distancing?

Security officers have discretion over whether to issue citations in such cases, said Carlos Rojas, Laguna Woods chief of security. They decide on the circumstances and follow the spirit of the law.

Gatherings remain restricted, but the number of allowed group participants has been increased from 10 to 15.

That rule, along with outdated signage (strongly recommending rather than mandating masks) has caused some confusion around Aliso Creek Park.

Does that mean only 15 people can be gathered in the entire creek stretch at one time? Rojas explained that the park can hold several individual groups but that each is limited to 15.

“There have been complaints,” he said. “The challenge is that it takes time to respond. Someone might report a violator, and then we cannot locate the person.”

He cited the human aspect, that some people simply do not believe in wearing masks.

“There are lots of moving parts when responding to a call,” he said.

Officers will stop a barefaced pedestrian, ask for identification and issue a citation when in order, Rojas said. If the person can’t or won’t identify themselves, they are regarded as trespassers, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department steps in, he said.

As for the groups, on a recent Sunday morning officers checked on a gathering by the creek and did not issue citations. Everyone appeared to comply with the 15 and under rule.

Rojas lauded residents’ overall compliance with the rules. He said only one Notice of Violation has been issued to a person for not wearing a mask and no notices have been given out regarding large gatherings.

“We have taken numerous reports regarding large gatherings and are evaluating them to see if they warrant action,” he said.

Rojas said he holds daily briefings with his 29 uniformed officers and lays down expectations on how to enforce the resolutions.

“Everyone is feeling cooped up, so we want to also give some flexibility to folks,” he said.

On a scorching Saturday morning, Shan Luo and her husband, Jimmy Wills, went on their daily walk sporting masks and sun protection.

“Masks are a total must to keep the virus from spreading,” Wills said.

“We have to protect ourselves to be able to protect others,” Luo added.

Such compliance appears to prevail for now. But, as recent correspondence from Globe readers indicates, it is not unanimous. Some are angry, not necessarily about social distancing and masks, but that popular Village activities have come to an indefinite halt.

In a Globe Letter to the Editor, resident Rich Haskell, 86, wrote on July 27 “…Almost nothing is known about coronavirus protection. Face masks, antisocial distancing (distance is not social) and handwashing are practices used in general for all viruses. I advocate their use because they are sensible and not a great inconvenience. However, they are no way a guarantee against the disease. Please, VMC and GRF, ease your restrictions and give people options. Allow our residents to choose what is best for the community and themselves….”

What about Laguna Woods beyond the gates? City Manager Chris Macon’s office states that Orange County Health Care Agency’s rules prevail. That means masks, six-feet social distancing, and, for the especially vulnerable, sheltering at home is strongly recommended.

Local food stores such as Stater Brothers and Mother’s Market require face coverings. The latter was recently challenged by a woman who claimed to have an exemption as a member of a so-called “freedom to breathe agency,” which federal officials have said does not exist.

The Lutheran Church of the Cross recently presented live performances of Broadway hits in a packed, small courtyard. The church had requested masks and social distancing, but compliance was scant. On July 31, one third of the roughly 65 attendees wore masks. (Performers were, of course, exempt.)

“We moved the program outside for social-distancing, but people arranged chairs for family groups and took masks down,” said Marcia Lanz, coordinator of the Broadway presentation. “We follow CDC/COVID-19 guidelines. We had never been in a situation like that before — we tried our best. We could not stop the show.”


Source: Orange County Register

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