A new mask mandate for the state of California took effect on Wednesday, but an NBC 7 Investigation discovered there has been questionable enforcement of those policies. Through public records requests, NBC 7 learned that not a single fine was collected by San Diego County officials through mask mandate enforcement.
In November of 2020, San Diego Sheriff William Gore was invited to a County COVID-19 news briefing and had this stern message, “We’ve already issued 159 citations around the county … this is a significant problem and enforcement action will be taken.”
Prior to that, local businesses have seen enforcement actions taken. About six months earlier, NBC 7 cameras were recording when deputies issued a cease and desist order to the first business accused of violating social distancing orders, El Prez Bar in Pacific Beach.
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And NBC 7 was there when deputies shut down Hernandez Hideaway restaurant in Escondido after the county said workers and customers were not wearing facemasks.
A gym owner in Ramona also became the first business to face criminal charges for reopening during the lockdown. At the time, owner Peter San Nicolas told NBC 7, “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to survive this? I don’t know. It’s about survival now at this point.”
Nicolas faced five misdemeanor charges for violating the California Emergency Services Act on five separate occasions in June and July. However, those charges were ultimately dismissed. In fact, NBC 7 also reached out to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office who said he was the only one who ever faces charges locally at any point.
So last November, the sheriff’s office created a specialized COVID Enforcement Team that was tasked with ensuring mandates were being followed.
It was composed of six deputies. We asked the county how much that enforcement team cost taxpayers for roughly the first two months of the program. A spokesperson says their combined salaries from Nov. 27, 2020, through Feb. 3, 2021, totaled $276,111.48, with about a third of that in overtime costs.
Downtown on Wednesday, Coal Bros Taqueria worker Maria Amaya is making sure everyone inside is masked up.
She told NBC 7, “I would rather not. But if we have to, it’s not a problem for us. Everyone’s health is the number one priority. Yeah, we’re willing to comply.”
She says she had to remind several customers to wear a mask. For those that won’t, she asks that they wait for their food outside. But she says she is not willing to refuse service outright saying, “That’s the last thing we want. We don’t want it to get physical, or no one getting verbally abusive.”
Amaya says her fear of facing a fine is the reason they’re wearing a mask, so she was pleased to hear none of the businesses caught violating the rules ever had to pay up.
“People are just barely getting up and running. So it’s good that they’re not fining people because that would really be bad for a lot of folks,” she says.
While there appear to be few repercussions for violating COVID-19 protocols from localities in our area, the state has taken action.
Since California began enforcing COVID-19 health mandates, California’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health cited at least thirteen businesses and government agencies in the San Diego area and imposed $226,780 in fines. Some of those violations included not following face mask guidelines, failure to properly notify the state about cases, or establishing a notification system when infections happen.
You can see the full list of businesses and government agencies that were cited, here.