A divided Huntington Beach City Council voted Wednesday to seek a ban on universal mask and Covid vaccine mandates in the city.
The motion passed with a 4-3 vote during a marathon meeting that ended at 2:48 a.m.
Under the city’s action, people who have tested positive for Covid would still be required to wear masks in certain settings.
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Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark introduced the motion at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The council voted to direct the city manager to work with the city attorney on language for a resolution, said Councilman Dan Kalmick, who voted against the motion.
In the motion, Van Der Mark said mask mandates imposed at City Hall and other parts of the city in 2020 and 2021 “unnecessarily limited the freedoms of the citizens of Huntington Beach — even those who were not around anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 or at risk of any exposure.”
Van Der Mark’s resolution requests the city manager to return to the council with a resolution at the next regular meeting declaring the city to be a “no mask and no vaccine mandate city” as a response to Covid or any variants.
“Individuals, whether at City Hall or in the private sector, should have a right to choose whether to wear a mask or get vaccinated or boosted,” it reads.
Covid cases have been on the rise again recently in Orange County and neighboring Los Angeles County, according to data from those county’s health departments.
Despite the city’s action, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said any such resolution would lack any authority because the state sets heal policies for California.
“The state is the only entity to order public health orders,” Foley said. “We learned this over the last three years. Nothing has changed. A city can do more, but not do less.”
Foley added that no one is proposing any mandates.
“The reality is Covid is increasing, but it’s mostly impacting seniors who are immunocompromised and little kids, but we have so many resources available now to residents,” Foley said. “They can go to their local drug store, their own doctor, a community clinic. No matter what the city they live in those resources will continue to be available. If people choose to wear masks that is their choice.”
Kalmick characterized the city action as a “ridiculous motion.”
“We’re not a public health agency. We’re a public policy agency,” Kalmick said.
Kalmick added there is no evidence any mandates were forthcoming anywhere.
“It was a straw man argument that this is going to happen,” Kalmick said. “No one is talking about universal mask or vaccine mandates.”
Deadline recently reported that Los Angeles County is requiring some employees at companies experiencing outbreaks to mask up.
The Public Health Department’s workplace page stipulates that, “If there is an outbreak in a workplace, all exposed employees are required to wear a mask when indoors, or when outdoors and less than six feet from another person.”
In its guidelines, the department defers to and frequently cites Cal/OSHA standards. The state government agency’s Covid regulations, in effect until February 2025, appear to be at the core of the continuing outbreak mask-mandate requirements which have sparked controversy.
It’s not the first time that Huntington Beach has pushed back against Covid-related regulations.
In 2020, as Covid spread widely for the first time, California Governor Gavin Newsom closed the beaches in Orange County. The move sparked public outcry and protests near the city’s famous pier.
Dana Point and Huntington Beach decided to seek temporary restraining orders, resisting Newsom’s order of a temporary “hard close” of beaches in Orange County, where crowds gathered on the sand despite social-distancing mandates due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Then Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes refused to enforce the closures, saying he would “seek voluntary compliance.”
Newsom eventually backed down.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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