During the weekend, Riverside County became the first county in the state to issue a mandatory mask order, as well as stopping all non-family member gatherings.
Mandatory masks and increased stay at home orders in Riverside County
Starting yesterday, all Riverside County residents will need to wear a mask at all times when in public to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The order also came only days after the county had recommended that people wear them in public. Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser had upgraded the order after it had been reported that many county residents were not wearing masks.
‘While more and more Riverside County residents are getting COVID-19, not everybody’s getting the message,” said Dr. Kaiser in a statement. “It started with staying home, social distance and covering your face. But now we change from saying that you should to saying that you must.”
Riverside County’s announcement quickly pulled other counties to take more action. Throughout the weekend, more counties in Southern and Northern California, including Los Angeles County, urged all residents to cover their noses and mouths when outside. San Diego County went one step further and ordered all essential and County workers to wear masks.
The county’s order to ban all public gatherings was initially resisted on Sunday by many churches celebrating mass. While many did eventually announce that they too would close after Sunday and offer online only services, several have announced their intentions to hold Easter services next week. The county’s statement said that any non-family gathering inside the house would be enforced by law enforcement ‘as they deem necessary’.
Charges of officials overstepping their authority and violating laws
While County officials have put these measures into place to stop the spread of the coronavirus and to save lives, the illegality of the moves have been noted by many as well.
“To begin with, you can argue first amendment violations,” said Charles Szabo, a lawyer who helped successfully challenged several swine flu restrictions a decade ago. “The county is literally stopping church services by issuing the gathering order. Yes, most churches have voluntarily complied, but there are a few wanting to stay open to serve those who can’t use online services or won’t do it in private. They could argue public safety, but then again freedom of religion and assembly could be infringed here.”
“The mask order is also worrisome. The County health department gave the order but not a higher official. They’re going a bit far in what they’re supposed to do, but most people are going with it because they want to reduce coronavirus risk.”
“Crazy times do call for increased measures. During WWII we had rations and factories were ordered to produce wartime goods. During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. This is on a much smaller scale, but the emergency is still there. And this is only a local order too.”
“It will be interesting to see what lawsuits and introspection we’ll see on these as the year continues. Some of these places, especially the churches, won’t take kindly to having police barge in on a service. Some places outside of California have been issued misdemeanors over having church over Governor orders, and those are going to be headaches of lawsuits later on.”
13,438 COVID-19 coronavirus cases have been reported in California, with 319 deaths also being reported for the state.