Morro Bay says no to mandatory face masks

Jun 13, 2020

The use of face coverings or masks has become one of the biggest debates nationwide during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Santa Barbara and Monterey counties have adopted a mandatory mask ordinance. But in San Luis Obispo County, it’s up to individual towns to decide.

The Morro Bay city council debated a mask ordinance on June 9, and decided the wearing of face coverings in public spaces should not be required.

Some city council members thought a mask ordinance would just be too difficult to enforce, and council member Marlys McPherson brought up the conflicting information about the effectiveness of cloth masks.

Morro Bay resident Nicole Dorfman said she was relieved the city council decided not to make it mandatory, since she feels proof on the effectiveness of cloth masks just isn’t there.

“All of the research that I have read says there is no evidence that cloth masks can’t stop the spread of contagions,’ Dorfman said. “Certainly, I’m in favor of anyone wearing a mask. But I do not see the science supporting healthy people wearing cloth masks.”

San Luis Obispo County’s public health officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein, has been asked repeatedly about mask use. Her stance is wearing a cloth mask is just an additional protective measure in preventing the spread of the virus.

“Mask usage, as it’s becoming more and more evident in medical literature, is really about protecting other people, it is not a fail safe,” Borenstein said at a recent briefing. “Which is why we continue to harp on all the other tried and true measures.”

Borenstein said it should be up to establishments to decide whether or not to require people to wear face coverings.

“Individual businesses can and should do what they think is appropriate for their business to protect their patrons and their employees,” Borenstein said.

Borenstein has long pointed out the county’s public health department recommends face coverings when physical distancing cannot be observed, but she stops short in making masks a requirement out in public.

"I get asked all the time...why is this county not going forward with an order for masks?” Borenstein said. “The main reason is our numbers don't dictate at this moment that we need to dictate that to people.”

Other San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party agrees it should be up to private businesses, the organization is advocating for the county and the Five Cities to require the wearing of face masks in outdoor and public spaces, especially during a time when the coastal communities get packed with tourists.

Party chair Rita Casaverde said not having people wear a mask out in public puts the community at risk.

“The county is re-opening, and we are seeing protests regarding Black Lives Matter and we know these protests are not going to end any time soon,” Casaverde said. “So we are asking the county to take action because we need to enforce mask wearing in public spaces, especially now where so many people are gathering.”

Borenstein said that while there is no current face covering order for the entire county, there could potentially be one in the future if the number of COVID-19 cases rises.

"We reserve that for a situation if we seem to be going in the wrong direction with our disease spread, but right now we continue to have very low numbers,” Borenstein said. “That can change in a heartbeat.”