EL CENTRO — Supervisor Jesus Escobar addressed Imperial County Public Health Department Director Janette Angulo, and Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday regarding the possibility of enforcing mask wearing and limited social gatherings through the issuance of fines. He asked Angulo if the County should consider finding a way to enforce the health orders given by the state and local health officer.
“As we heard yesterday, the governor ordered a drastic move to try to flatten the curve statewide. From a regional perspective we’re having issues in all our surrounding areas — Yuma County, Riverside County, San Diego County, and obviously the City of Mexicali. We’ve consistently, for the past 90 days or so, used the words ‘strongly encourage’ and unfortunately that has really not assisted in flattening our curve. In fact, it’s continuing to spike,” said Escobar.
He continued, “Do we need to move from a ‘strongly encouraging’ to an actually administrative fine, citation, or penalty — for people not wearing face coverings, for the lack of social distancing, for the lack of people respecting social gatherings? I just don’t see us flattening the curve and the ‘strongly encouraging’ overall is really not working. Do we need to take it to the next level?”
Munday explained the health orders regarding face coverings are not “strongly encouraged.” Face coverings are required.
“As I have said all along, we want to do this because we want people to be safe,” said Munday. “It’s not about obviously trying to get someone in trouble or punish them or fine them. It’s about trying to get them to do things to keep themselves and others safe. However, we all know that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much information you share, that there are always people that just are going to decide that they just don’t want to do it that way.”
The health officer order includes a reference to the code that does include a fine. He said it would be the decision of law enforcement of how to manage that process.
“I would invite some discussion with regard to that because we don’t have the option of fining people. We don’t want to fine people. We want to keep people safe. But it is in the health officer order and there is a fine in place,” said Munday.
He said the State has also moved in the direction of issuing fines because they have started sending out individuals from the Bureau of Alcohol and California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). They’re sending teams to all jurisdictions, with a focus on the jurisdictions that are on the State’s monitoring list, to assist in ensuring people are complying with the health order.
“What I’ve heard from some of my fellow health officers and health directors, in the jurisdictions where they’ve been seeing them, they try to start out as we do — advising, asking, educating — but there’s always the move to the next step when that doesn’t work.”
Munday suggested a broader discussion about how to proceed and what to do when people decide not to follow the mandatory health order due to the ICPHD’s inability to issue fines. Local law enforcement agencies would have to be responsible for issuing fines if that decision was made.
Supervisor Ryan Kelley said, “I would suggest a conversation with local law enforcement be conducted at the County’s behest and have this conversation directly with all of the jurisdiction so that we start getting them into that mindset of encouragement but it’s the encouragement with a hammer behind it.”
“I think we should move in that direction. If we want to do anything to flatten this curve, the enforcement aspect needs to start taking place,” said Escobar.
Escobar said enforcing the health order is the only way to hold everyone accountable.
Currently, there are working group meetings between the County, city managers, and city mayors. Law enforcement representatives will be invited to the table to discuss the issue.
The board will continue discussions regarding the enforcement of health orders.