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Los Altos council dismisses emergency face-covering order

mask wearers
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A trio of masked women stroll down Main Street in downtown Los Altos Thursday.

The Los Altos City Council last week rejected a proposed emergency order that would have required residents to wear face coverings indoors when in public.

City Manager Chris Jordan introduced the measure at a May 19 special meeting. It would have applied to most settings outside the home, exempting children under 2 years old, those with medical conditions prohibiting them from wearing a mask and those driving alone or with members of their household. The order also recommended but did not require face coverings for residents exercising outdoors.

Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order already requires face coverings in most circumstances. But council discussion zeroed in on a primary difference: In Jordan’s proposed order, residents would not only have to wear a face covering when they are inside an essential business, but also when in line to enter the business.

Councilwoman Neysa Fligor, who was in favor of the emergency order, noted that the county requires wearing face coverings in some cases and merely recommends them in others. She worried that people may not wear masks or practice social distancing when they filter in, out and around retail stores, as newly reintroduced curbside pickup is likely to drive increased foot traffic. Fligor said Jordan’s order would clarify exactly what is expected of residents as they begin to venture out more amid loosening restrictions.

Fellow council members disagreed, contending that additional legislation dictating expectations during the pandemic would likely confuse residents. Councilwoman Anita Enander said she would rather the city collaborate with county representatives on promoting county measures.

The proposal did not draw enough support for a formal motion.

“I was disappointed our colleagues didn’t join me and the mayor in passing an ordinance requiring individuals to wear face mask coverings when they are in all public places, unless it was within one of the exceptions,” Fligor said in an email.

Spreading the word

While the council did not reach a consensus on the emergency order, members agreed on a key next step to ensure public safety: education.

The council hopes to partner with city staff, community organizations, businesses and outlets like the Town Crier to spread the word and encourage residents to take the most up-to-date preventive actions to combat spread of the coronavirus.

Mayor Jan Pepper said it would help if the city and police work together to make sure operating businesses follow the county’s requirement to post safety protocols.

According to Police Chief Andy Galea, the department is issuing warnings before taking consequential action, because most businesses and residents violating the county order are willing to comply once informed of the rules.

No citations have been handed out in Los Altos, though they have in some cities “farther south,” Galea said. However, those who openly defy the order could face an administrative citation, fines and even jail time for the offense, as it is classified as a misdemeanor.

To read the city’s proposed face covering emergency order, visit bit.ly/3e8Ywy2. To read the county’s latest order, visit bit.ly/3g98YXX.

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