The day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced masks would be required in most public spaces, Kern County officials remained in the dark about how such an order would be enforced.
The order is potentially enforceable through a misdemeanor charge accompanied by a fine or worse, according to the state. Agencies like the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health could be in charge of ensuring compliance.
“This is a statewide requirement and flows from the same legal authority as all of the other state orders,” Corey Egel, acting deputy director for public affairs for the California Department of Public Health, said in an email. “Californians have done incredible work following those orders — saving lives in the process. We expect that will continue to be the case.”
Yet those in Kern County who may be charged with enforcing the order haven’t heard anything from the state after the initial announcement.
Lt. David Kessler, of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, said his agency hadn't seen the actual order from the governor’s office yet, but when it did, the Kern County Public Health Services Department would regulate and enforce it.
On Friday, county health department spokeswoman Michelle Corson said an update from the governor’s office outside of the order's initial announcement hadn't been received.
Other parts of the county also remained out of the loop.
“The State has provided no information on how they plan to enforce their order,” Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop wrote in an email. “The County will continue to reinforce through communication all State Public Health guidance issued for COVID-19, including the recent amended guidance for masks, with the public and all local industry.”
Mask-wearing is rapidly becoming a divisive topic among Kern County residents, with many choosing to forgo them while in public.
“I could be very wrong on this because we have friends and relatives who are conservative and Republican (and wear masks), but it seems to have divided itself a little bit along political lines,” said retired middle school teacher Steve Bass.
He said he wears a mask in public, but frequently observes others who choose not to.
“I’m all for masks,” he said. “I think it’s sensible, polite and the conscientious thing to do. I’m not going to get angry with somebody who doesn’t, but I just don’t understand why people are averse to it, because it’s not going to be over until we all help out and get rid of this stuff.”
While public health experts clearly say masks help reduce the risk of COVID-19 by stopping the spread of droplets that could be infected with the virus, the state health department says face coverings may actually increase risk if users reduce physical distancing and hand-washing while wearing them.
“Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill, but they may be helpful when combined with these primary interventions,” the department wrote in April.
The department said the best defense for COVID-19 is washing hands frequently, avoiding face touching, avoiding being around sick people and physical distancing.
The state’s new guidance allows for several exceptions, including children younger than 2. For the most part, though, the public is now required to wear face coverings in most situations.
The question remains, however, of potential consequences for those who refuse.