Coronavirus: In San Jose, face mask enforcement will be all carrot, no stick

SAN JOSE — With Santa Clara County instituting its first — albeit limited — face-covering requirement starting Friday, and San Jose leaders pondering their own stricter ordinance, what residents won’t see in the Bay Area’s largest city is a police officer coming out to ticket someone for not wearing a mask.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia has been vocal about his officers giving warnings, instead of criminalizing non-business violations of the county shelter-in-place order through misdemeanor citations. Garcia said at a city council meeting Tuesday that he anticipates his department getting “inundated with calls from the community” reporting people not wearing face masks, and wanted to head that off.

The chief was scheduled to elaborate on the matter at a news conference Thursday, but it was abruptly called off.

Garcia declined to comment further Thursday, other than to say that as was the case with the original COVID-19 health order, his officers have been instructed not to use stay-at-home violations or face-mask violations as the sole cause to stop and detain someone on the street.

At the Tuesday council meeting, Garcia voiced concerns that strict enforcement of the face-mask order would disproportionately affect low-income and unhoused residents and people with limited English fluency. The county’s initial reluctance to issue a face-mask mandate — until now it only strongly recommended their use — was based on an unwillingness to burden police with additional enforcement burdens.

“It is simply not our role,” Garcia said. “To have calls for service, and have officers respond for individuals not wearing masks, is again treating a public-health issue and making it a public-safety issue.”

Officers will still respond if a face-mask conflict escalates, like if a person refuses to leave a store or business that requires customers to wear masks, police said. Such a scenario would become a disturbance or trespassing call, authorities said, which they would enforce.

The new face-mask requirements that go into effect Friday — bringing Santa Clara County closer with other Bay Area counties that issued broad mandates last month — apply to newly re-opened curbside retail and outdoor businesses, previously-declared essential businesses like grocery stores, and public transit. Exceptions exist for small children, people with breathing difficulties and those physically unable to put on their own mask.

SAN JOSE, CA.- MAY 20: Mayor Sam Liccardo wears a San Jose branded face mask while waiting to speak at a press conference at the COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of PAL Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

City leaders broadly agree with Garcia’s approach.

“I’m confident … we are not going to be engaging in proactive arrests or citations for the most part unless there is some incredible willful disobedience,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said at the same council meeting.

The proposed San Jose mask ordinance aims to fill gaps in the county rules, and would require that face coverings be worn in most settings where people commingle with others outside their household, including public areas and workplaces.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Health


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