When Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilman Sergio Jimenez proposed a law that would require face masks in public in San Jose, Santa Clara County health officials were only urging residents to cover up to slow the spread of coronavirus.
That all changed Monday when the county health department issued new guidance that made masks mandatory in businesses starting later this week. Despite the revised ruling, the San Jose council voted unanimously at Tuesday night’s virtual meeting to consider a stricter law that would require face coverings anytime someone’s out and about.
The council was originally slated to approve the proposal outright on Tuesday, however, City Attorney Rick Doyle said he’d need time to review gaps between Jones and Jimenez’s proposal and the county order. The issue is tentatively set to return for a vote on June 2.
Though that decision is still a couple weeks away, a number of residents expressed their concerns about enforcement, the effectiveness of masks and their constitutional rights.
“What we’re proposing is not radical,” Jones argued in the videoconference meeting. “It’s not infringing on people’s constitutional rights because there’s an old saying that your rights and privileges end where my rights and privileges begin. And if we don’t have these types of safety measures as we open up the economy, then we’re going to have a spike in cases. We’re going to have more deaths.”
Studies have shown that wearing a mask—which can include a covering as simple as a bandana—can help lessen the number of aerosol droplets a person expels into the air when they breathes or cough.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially said face coverings aren’t all that useful. Health officials changed course in early April after finding evidence that the coronavirus could be spread by asymptomatic individuals.
On Tuesday, Mayor Sam Liccardo noted that wearing a mask is, “clearly the best practice throughout the world in dealing with this virus and other viruses where we have outbreaks and epidemics.” “No, they do not serve primarily to protect the mask wearer, they serve to protect everyone else and that is a critical important public health objective right now and it’s far less intrusive than a lot of other things we’d have to do if we end up getting a spike in cases,” he added.
Councilman Johnny Khamis, who displayed his own Star Trek mask on the Zoom call, expressed some concerns about the restrictiveness of the order. “I’m okay with it if it’s in parks and other things like that, but if I’m walking my dog just down the block, I don’t want a police officer to come up and point their finger at me,” he said.
Jones clarified that the proposal has a number of exemptions for people who are exercising, under the age of 6 or have been advised by a doctor not to wear a mask.
Councilwoman Pam Foley said she was grappling with the “enforceability” of the law.
San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia told the council that his department has struggled with enforcement since day one of the shelter-in-place order—especially when criminals are being released from jail without bail.
“Often times what’s lost in these decisions as they’re made is what the cost of doing enforcement of these orders,” he said. “It’s akin to the expectations that some have had with us breaking up crowds due to the social distancing order. We’ve said that we weren’t going to do it but I guarantee people assumed that we would.”
While SJPD could issue warnings, which has been done in San Mateo County, Garcia said enforcing the law could come at a cost if an officer has to chase or use force on someone. “When COVID-19 is gone, we’re going to be left to deal with the credibility of this police department on how we enforce these laws and regulation,” he added.
Jimenez said he realizes that police have bigger issues to deal with, and that he doesn’t expect them to fully enforcement the policy. “I’d like to think that the majority of residents are really thinking about not me, but we, and really taking a very community-broad approach and thinking about the health of our community” he said.