REDWOOD CITY — San Mateo County has joined the growing list of Bay Area counties to back up mask and other health mandates with stiff fines to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Anyone caught face-free in public areas where masks are required could face fines up to $500 per violation, the county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously decided Tuesday.
Under an ordinance proposed by Supervisor David Canepa and approved by the board, first-time violators of coronavirus-related public health requirements such as wearing masks, keeping social distances of at least six feet and not gathering in large groups could get slapped with $100 fines.
The fines would increase to $250 for a second offense and $500 for each subsequent violation. County officials indicated the thrust of the ordinance will be directed at people who fail to wear face masks when entering a store or other business or who cite their right to not wear a mask and refuse to do so.
Outside activities permitted by health orders such as going for a run, walking a dog or relaxing in the park while maintaining social distance won’t be affected by the new ordinance.
But failing to to wear a mask at beaches, where Canepa said county officials are seeing a lot of violations, could draw a warning ticket and a followup fine.
Commercial businesses could also be fined if their employees or customers don’t wear masks, maintain social distance or follow other rules meant to keep work places safe, from $250 for an initial offense up to $3,000 per violation.
Contra Costa County, Napa and Marin counties recently authorized similar fines, as did Santa Cruz County just minutes before San Mateo County did.
In addition to authorizing fines, San Mateo County supervisors also set in motion a plan to distribute masks en masse in an effort to encourage residents to wear them and avoid fines.
Supervisor Dave Pine said he’s glad law enforcement officers aren’t the only ones expected to issue the tickets, since “as a practical matter most of those folks have their hands full already.”
Other county officials who can cite scofflaws under the ordinance are health officers, the parks director, code compliance officers, the environmental health services director and fire marshal.
“It’s important for the public not to have an expectation that there’s going to be thousands of tickets being issued,” Pine said. “It is a tool and it will help. It will be most helpful in the commercial setting. If they’re not following the rule you get a lot of bang for your buck with enforcement.”
Supervisor Carole Groom said she gets angry when she sees somebody not wearing a mask, “especially at the grocery store.”
“At first I was a little concerned about the monetary fines, but I called some people in my community and they said if someone is a repeat violator it’s good to fine them,” Groom said, adding that she is asking staff and constituents to send in a picture of themselves with a mask and why they wear them.
Supervisor Warren Slocum said the ordinance is necessary because violations persist. For example, he said, police found many customers weren’t wearing masks inside a restaurant serving drinks in the North Fair Oaks area near Redwood City.
“It was so bad there was hardly anyone wearing a mask,” Slocum said. “And I’m specially concerned about the commercial section, as this incident shows. It’s not so much sending the mask police out — we have bigger fish to fry to tame the coronavirus — but we have to wear masks.”
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Author: Aldo Toledo