Masked flower vendor

Monterey County's face covering ordinance requires people to wear masks in public and when conducting business in a public place, like this flower vendor seen at the Old Monterey Marketplace. 

On July 28, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors (meeting via Zoom) voted unanimously to approve a face covering ordinance, requiring anyone out and about in public to wear a mask or face penalties. 

Officials in the Monterey County Health Department's environmental health bureau treated September as outreach and education month, visiting businesses to check on compliance.

In total, they visited 1,877 businesses in unincorporated Monterey County, Environmental Health Director John Ramirez said Wednesday, Oct. 28 in a press briefing. Most of them—1,416 sites—were already compliant on the first visit. Another 195 sites warranted a follow-up visit to confirm compliance.

(Another 209 got three visits from health officials, 18 got visited four times, and 39 got a fifth.)

Throughout the process, 23 businesses went on a watchlist, "where it was difficult, or we found resistance and we knew we had to go back," Ramirez said. 

In October, as those repeat visits happened, officials began issuing citations. As of Oct. 27, they issued 11 citations at seven business. 

The businesses are The Gym in Prunedale, which was cited three times; Farm Fresh Produce in Moss Landing, which was cited once for a cashier wearing a face covering pulled below the chin; Head Honchoz barbershop in Prunedale, which was cited once; and four restaurants. 

The restaurants cited are Bagel Bakery in the Carmel Rancho Shopping Center, which was cited twice; Plaza Linda Restaurant in Carmel Valley, also cited twice; Aloha Coffee & Cafe on Del Monte Boulevard in Monterey, cited once; and Panaderia Y Paleterra Michoacan in Pajaro, also cited once. 

The citations come with fines—$100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 third. That means a triple-citation, like at The Gym, where gym members were unmasked on three separate visits, the business faces a total of $800 in fines.

Emmanuel Marchica, owner of The Gym, was surprised to learn today that he's been cited—he says he has not received any citation and he has been fully compliant with face covering rules. 

Rather than move equipment outside, where Marchica says it would be destroyed due to dog, he opens the garage door and allows only two people to exercise at a time, scheduling appointments in advance online. The small numbers mean he's not making money, but decided to open on a limited basis anyway.

"The community is going nuts, so I said, at least I'll give some of you access to exercise. It's two people at a time, and everyone is wearing masks. The county guy, when he called me said, 'At least you guys are wearing masks.'"

The food facilities will also receive notices of violation that will be mailed this week, requiring that they come into compliance immediately or they could face suspension of their food permits. (Business owners will have the opportunity to appeal those citations.)  

Overall, Ramirez views the enforcement summary as good news. "The low number of citations is a measure of success," he said. We may still be issuing a few here and there. But I believe as word gets out that there are penalties for not complying, we will get more compliance."

Next up, health officials will begin making the rounds to encourage compliance and begin enforcement if necessary in workforce housing sites, including H2A lodging, where temporary foreign workers live. Officials will distribute three to four free face coverings to people who don't have one, and for those who cannot wear a mask for any reason, they'll distribute face shields. 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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