YREKA, Calif. — Following California Governor Gavin Newsom's announcement last week that face coverings would be required in public statewide in order to reduce the rising spread of coronavirus, some local law enforcement officials quickly signaled that they would not be enforcing the order.
Modoc County Sheriff Tex Dowdy put out a statement on Facebook last Friday, saying that it "would not be appropriate" for deputies to criminally enforce the order.
"My office will not be enforcing face coverings in Modoc County. We pride ourselves in knowing our communities and our residents," Dowdy said. "It is my opinion that the potential for negative outcomes of enforcing such a minor offense far outweigh the risks of spreading this virus."
This week, in an apparent response to statements like Dowdy's, Gov. Newsom threatened to withhold up to $2.5 billion in aid for local governments that fail to follow the statewide mandates for masks, social distancing, and contact tracing.
On Wednesday, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey issued his own statement. In a departure from his colleague Dowdy, Lopey indicated that he would not rule out enforcing face coverings within his jurisdiction.
"I prefer to leave enforcement as a possibility because we do not know at this juncture what is going to happen with COVID-19 transmissions, and, I believe there could be instances where egregious and/or repetitive violations of the health officer or gubernatorial mandates or guidelines are evident and warrant enforcement," Lopey said. "This may involve a business, organizer of a large event, or may involve individual citizens."
While Modoc County has yet to identify a positive case of COVID-19, Siskiyou County has seen a gradual climb in new cases since reopening began. Shasta County, which neighbors Siskiyou to the south, has reported more than 90 cases and five deaths.
"I respect the decisions made by other law enforcement officials but as a long-serving peace officer, I think it is wise to not only maintain enforcement as a viable tool in the proverbial tool box, I also do not want to send the wrong message that the county is not enforcing guidelines," Lopey continued, "which will tend, in my opinion, to give county residents and the many visitors to our county the justification to violate these important guidelines or mandates with little prospect of consequences."
Lopey said that his agency has not had to take any criminal enforcement measures for the mask requirement to date — though it has issued warnings, provided education, or worked with city police chiefs in order to gain voluntary compliance.
"While I think some government officials sometimes exceed their lawful and constitutional authority in enacting restrictions, this county, in coordination with our leaders, have recommended prudent guidelines and mandates, in cooperation with our health officer and state officials, that have been more beneficial for our county and its citizens," Lopey said.