Editor’s note: Co-author Stephanie Olivieri preferred not to include her photo
Truckee has made successful efforts in marketing, education, and outreach related to mask wearing and social distancing to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We have put up signs promoting mask wearing throughout main traffic corridors, placed signs promoting the same in businesses’ windows, and restricted the number of patrons inside a business to promote social distancing.
Yet the enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing is falling to our local business owners, and this is having tremendous impacts on them. It puts their safety, health, and well-being at risk on a daily basis. Business owners often experience verbal abuse from patrons when asking them to comply with the mask mandate. Downtown sidewalks are full of people walking packed together, many without masks. Restaurant diners seated along the sidewalk are subjected to a continuous stream of people without masks walking within feet of them, clearly posing a health concern. Businesses can’t possibly be compliance monitors of these situations, nor should they be expected to be. Public health enforcement falling to business owners is bad for our health and safety, and bad for their business.
Throughout history, public health efforts have relied on marketing, education, and outreach efforts. However, when those efforts do not adequately or comprehensively motivate public health behavioral change, stronger encouragement, and eventually enforcement, must be part of the solution.
Earlier public health campaigns that promoted wearing seatbelts while driving and not smoking in restaurants and bars began as marketing, education, and outreach campaigns. Subsequent enforcement was required to ensure public health safety and compliance with those efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic is no different. It is time for Truckee to consider stronger mechanisms for encouragement and possibly enforcement of following mask and distancing regulations as COVID-19 cases continue to surge within our community and those communities from which we receive frequent visitors.
We suggest a six-to-eight-week campaign to boost mask wearing and social distancing, focusing on education and managed by our police force. It is time to let our businesses focus on conducting business, not enforcing state mandates.
We suggest part of our COVID-19 risk mitigation strategy include a police presence within our most heavily-trafficked business areas. Our volunteer police, who are often present on Truckee Thursdays, could also be utilized for this purpose. The goal is to demonstrate that our community is committed to enforcing the state mandate for the health of locals and visitors. Truckee police or volunteers could also distribute masks to anyone not in compliance and ensure that social distancing is maintained.
If this educational period of encouragement is not successful in achieving compliance, we must consider enforcement options.
Many California cities are already using administrative citation structures to enforce mask wearing within public spaces. For example:
Marin County: $25-$500 citations to individuals not wearing masks in public.
Monterey: $100 fine for the first offense, $150 fine for the second offense, $200 fine for the third offense for anyone not wearing face coverings in the city’s commercial districts.
Santa Monica: $100 fine for noncompliance with mask-wearing and social distance mandates. Subsequent citations result in fines of $250 for not wearing masks and $500 for violating social distancing mandates.
West Hollywood: $250 fine plus a $50 processing fee for the first offense of noncompliance with mask-wearing mandates.
We recognize that our Truckee police force has many obligations, but protecting public health and safety should be a top priority, and encouraging mask wearing and social distancing while in public aids this goal. It also supports our local businesses and their economic recovery as we all weather the impacts of the pandemic. On June 23, Truckee’s town staff said that the Truckee Police Department would not be involved in giving tickets or enforcing the state mandate.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, we must reassess this situation. We urge the town and our police department to reconsider this issue and lend our business community the support needed. This will ensure we are promoting public health and safety for our families, our businesses, and everyone who lives, works, and visits here.
~ Courtney Henderson is a doctor of public health and health and energy professional. She serves on a technical advisory committee for the Sierra Business Council and worked with the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services and community partners to coordinate the distribution of no-cost PPE to Truckee businesses over the summer. Stefanie Olivieri is a lifelong resident of Truckee and the owner of Cabona’s in downtown Truckee.