SALINAS — Voting unanimously in support of a countywide mask mandate, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors decided to move forward at its meeting on Tuesday, directing staff to prepare a draft ordinance for consideration at a special meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
The Board of Supervisors discussed, among other things, the protection of children too young to be vaccinated and the increase in COVID-19 variants such as delta, which has become the predominant coronavirus strain, and took public comment as well as hearing from Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno.
“Our children have returned to school and I feel its imperative we do everything we can to protect their physical health and keep them in school,” said Supervisor and board Chair Wendy Root Askew. “School has only just begun and there are weekly notifications of children diagnosed with COVID, which is pushing families to the edge.”
According to the county, the ordinance that will be brought to the Board of Supervisors for consideration will require all residents, in cities and unincorporated areas, to wear facial coverings indoors with exemptions for when people are in their own homes, with family members, alone in a closed room or taking part in an activity where masks cannot be worn such as eating.
The ordinance would apply to everyone over the age of 2 but will address a situation for parents of young children where the children may have difficulty keeping masks in place.
The effective date of the ordinance will be determined during the upcoming meeting and will end in 60 days or upon board order — unless extended.
Violations of the ordinance will be subject to an administrative citation with enforcement details to be determined.
Moreno said he has criteria to follow different from anyone else in the county including choosing less restrictive measures to achieve the goal of curbing the spread of the disease, and feels it is not yet time for him to issue an order. It was Moreno who ordered the previous Monterey County mask orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Wednesday’s media briefing, Moreno said Monterey County’s most recent test positivity rate is 4.2%, down from 5% about seven to 10 days ago after reaching a high of 6% about two weeks ago.
“So it’s dropped quite a bit. It’s dropped probably 50% over the last few weeks,” said Moreno.
The Monterey County COVID-19 case rate is 13.2 per 100,000 and is holding steady over the past 10 to 14 days and appears to be leveling off, he said.
Moreno cited a combination of things that has helped bring Monterey County rates down such as the state’s mandate for masks in K-12 schools, universal masking in health care facilities, shelters, and other places, vaccine rates, and his recommendation for face coverings to be used indoors regardless of vaccination status.
“As a health officer, I can act if I feel that less restrictive measures have not been effective. But in this case, it appears that the less restrictive measures appear to be slowing the rate so it would be difficult for me to justify issuing a health officer order,” said Moreno.
Health officers in Santa Cruz County, as well as most Bay Area counties, issued mask mandates last month.
According to the Monterey County website, the number of reported cases caused by the delta variant among those sequenced stands at 302.
As of Tuesday, there were 111 additional cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Monterey County since the start of the pandemic to 46,656. Three more individuals are currently hospitalized for a total of 50 cases and the number of deaths from COVID-19 remains at 542.
According to the CDC COVID-19 data tracker, 78.3% of Monterey County residents 12 years of age and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 66.1% of that eligibility group are fully vaccinated.
Children 0 to 11 years of age who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated are 17% of the Monterey County population.
“I am here to say that when I look at the full range of data available to us I’m pleased to hear (Monterey County Counsel Les Girard say) that we have an option for this board to move forward with an ordinance that would apply to all the cities in our county and I would like to see us move forward with that,” said Root Askew. “I also want to recognize the many, many communications that have come into our office from people asking us to take additional steps to increase the layers of protection that are available. We’ve also heard from people who have concerns about the additional, you know, not wanting to have additional county mandates in place. I hear all that, but at this point, I think we need to move forward and take the steps that we can to prevent the spread of this virus and keep our community as healthy as possible.”
Contributed by local news sources