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Orange County sees opposing views on COVID-19 mask guidelines

A man jogs along Harbor Boulevard in downtown Fullerton last week after Orange County rescinded its mask order. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times )

A group of people supporting face coverings during COVID-19 tried to hold a press conference Tuesday outside the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Ana to reinstate the mask requirement in public locations.   

This group of people consisted of about 25 OC union representatives and the OC Labor Federation, a group representing more than 90 local unions with more than 200,000 working members, according to the L.A. Times.

However, this news conference was met with opposition from anti-mask protesters, who began pushing and chanting over speakers “Hey hey, ho ho, these masks have got to go,” the L.A. Times reported. 

“They were bent on silencing us. We expected this to happen, but we are going to be undeterred about our message,” Luis Aleman, project lead for the OC Labor Federation said, according to the L.A. Times. “We saw 100 folks go out and tell the county Board of Supervisors that we don’t need masks. There’s a lot more people on the side of doctors and scientists saying that masks should be a required part of public policy.”

According to ABC News, the OC Labor Federation sent the Board of Supervisors a letter and planned to return to the next meeting to request that masks be made mandatory in pubic, as the meeting moved to a closed session due to protestors against masks speaking off-topic. 

“A few weeks ago, we were celebrating the heroes, the frontline workers,” executive director of the OC Labor Federation Gloria Alvarado said, according to ABC News,. “Now they’re asking us to stand with them for safety, and we see people in the community saying no.”

However, Tuesday was not the beginning of this dispute between both groups. It began when former county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick’s order, requiring people to wear cloth face coverings in public places, became a controversy. 

Many residents and elected officials questioned Quick’s order and the need to use face coverings, despite businesses reopening around the county. After receiving much criticism ranging from her photo being displayed with a Hitler mustache and swastikas to a death threat, Quick resigned last week, according to the L.A. Times.

OC Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau became the interim health officer. And last Thursday, he revised the order from a requirement to a recommendation that people continue to wear masks in the public. 

“This does not diminish the importance of face coverings,” Chau said at a news conference. “I stand with the public health experts and believe wearing cloth face coverings helps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community and save lives. By being consistent with the state, this will give our business community and individuals the ability to make the most appropriate decision for them and their situation.”

As the controversy of using masks continues, both COVID-19 cases and deaths reported continue to rise. According to the OC Health Agency, there were 205 new cases and 10 more fatalities reported on Wednesday. As of June 18, there are 9,292 cumulative cases and 4,496 people who have recovered. 

Although the county has relaxed the order, OC cities such as Irvine, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach have stricter guidelines and requirements. For example, the City of Irvine continues to require essential business employees and customers to wear face coverings. 

The revolts against using masks have alarmed health professionals, as masks are essential in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and future outbreaks without a developed vaccine. 

“It’s the only way we get back to work — it’s to mask,” UC San Francisco chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo said to the L.A. Times. “All of the data tells us … it’s pretty clear that masking is the element that changes the trajectories of the COVID pandemic.”

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