Fines in place to force face mask compliance

By: David J. Canepa San Mateo County District 5 Supervisor, dcanepa@smcgov.org, 650-363-4572

In response to a surge of COVID-19 cases and the county being placed back on the state’s watch list, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance I co-sponsored in August that will impose fines for individuals and businesses that violate the state’s health orders, including not wearing face masks in high-risk settings.

Violations of the state’s shelter in place health orders may be punishable as a misdemeanor, with fines up to $1,000 and a possible jail sentence of up to 90 days. The new county ordinance treats violations of the health order as a simple administrative infraction rather than a criminal citation and will apply countywide.

If you don’t wear your face mask in public or violate any of the state’s COVID-19 health orders, you may now be fined in San Mateo County. This ordinance essentially decriminalizes violations of the health order but at the same time gives us an added tool to enforce compliance of the state’s face covering and social distancing mandates.

This approach eliminates potential jail time, reduces violations from a misdemeanor to an administrative infraction and reduces the burden on police to enforce the violations. Enforcement will start with a simple warning potentially issued by Community Service Officers with a fine structure for multiple violations that ranges from $100 to $500 for individuals and $250 to $3,000 for commercial violations.

Science proves that wearing a face mask, practicing social distancing and avoiding large gatherings greatly limits the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic is not over and we must take personal responsibility to save lives and reopen the economy. If we all follow these simple rules, then there will be no need to issue infractions. But if you thumb your noses at the health order mandates, then you should be fined.

The use of administrative Enforcement Officers — potentially a range of people designated by county officers with public health or code enforcement responsibilities — will help minimize the enforcement burden on sworn law enforcement officers, who can focus primarily on their criminal law enforcement responsibilities. This may be particularly valuable in the current political climate, where many individuals have expressed concern about the expansion of law enforcement duties beyond the criminal sphere.

My hope is that no citations will ever be issued because we as a community have recognized the importance of the state’s health orders and are all wearing our masks.

David J. Canepa serves on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and represents Brisbane.