Orange County labor leaders are calling on County health officials and Sheriff Don Barnes to enforce the statewide coronavirus mask mandate as businesses begin reopening during the pandemic.
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“This county is continuously reporting over 100 cases daily,” said Orange County Labor Federation Executive Director Gloria Alvarado, at a Monday news conference.
“We have lost too many lives,” said Alvarado, urging County officials to enforce the mask mandate and “not to look for excuses.”
The virus has now killed 269 people out of 10,595 confirmed cases, according to the County’s updated numbers.
There were no new deaths reported in Monday’s updated counts.
There are 351 people hospitalized, including 137 in intensive care units.
Just over 5,000 people have recovered from the virus and nearly 218,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
United Food and Commercial Worker (UFCW) union local 324 President Andrea Zinder said many essential employees, like grocery store workers, have continued to work throughout the pandemic and are struggling to deal with people who refuse to wear masks.
She called on County health officials and Barnes to enforce the statewide mask mandate.
“A very vocal group of selfish individuals refuses to wear masks, including when they are in supermarkets and drugstores,” Zinder said. “Our local officials have not been consistent in mandating face masks.”
UFCW has been pushing for mandatory masks since the pandemic started in mid-March.
Zinder said Supervisors were influenced by “a small but vocal group of ignorant bullies.”
Two county supervisors – Don Wagner and Michelle Steel – were themselves loud voices against mask mandates, citing civil liberties, transparency and health concerns.
The anti-mask group lobbied Supervisors to force former OC Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick to rescind the mandatory mask order, which she issued late last month as dine-in restaurants and shopping centers reopened just ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
Quick stood firm on her order throughout Supervisors’ questioning. She also received threats, including one that county officials classified as a death threat. She abruptly resigned June 8, following at least one protest in front of her house.
Barnes publicly told Supervisors at their May 26 meeting that his deputies won’t enforce the mask order, but educate instead.
“We are not the mask police nor do I intend to be the mask police,” Barnes told Supervisors at the May 26 meeting, which came before Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide mask mandate.
“So I know there is a ‘shall’ order. Our deputies always have … fallen back on education first to take appropriate measures. But we are not and have not dealt through these issues through enforcement. And I will direct my staff not to direct any enforcement towards the shall issue mask requirement,” Barnes said.
OC Healthcare Agency Director, Dr. Clayton Chau, became the interim health officer after Quick resigned. He walked the countywide mask order back June 11.
Newsom instituted the statewide mask mandate last Thursday.
At a Monday news conference, Newsom said he’s leaving enforcement to counties.
“What is the enforcement mechanism? Foundationally, we look to local government to drive the enforcement,” Newsom said, adding that the state may take regulatory measures through OSHA or the Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Meanwhile, Zinder said grocery store workers are constantly testing positive for the virus.
“As the state opens up positive cases among supermarket workers have been on the rise,” Zinder said. “Just this past weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, we had six new members test positive.”
The UFCW 324, based in Buena Park, represents more than 22,000 grocery and other retail employees, including retail employees in Anaheim’s Disneyland-area resort district.
Zinder called on Disney to implement more safety measures for employees, like on-site coronavirus testing and paid quarantine leave if an employee catches the virus. The UFCW represents about 3,000 workers in the Disneyland-resort area.
“If Disney is not willing to invest a little extra in employees’ health, it should not be allowed to reopen,” Zinder said.
GlynnDana Shelvin, an employee at the Disneyland Hotel, told Voice of OC that Disneyland employees have been told to take their temperatures at home before coming to work.
She expressed concern that people may lie about their temperatures when they come to work, potentially exposing employees and tourists to the virus.
Shelving also doesn’t know how many people Disney will let in the parks, hotels and other resort areas.
“I’m asking them to step it up,” Shelvin said.
“I want to come back to work,” the 30-year Disney employee said.
But, Shelvin said, she wants reassurance that Disneyland and Disney’s hotels will strictly enforce the mask mandate, have on-site virus testing and take temperatures at the theme park’s entrance.
She said she worries about the health of tourists, her coworkers and her own, as Shelvin just turned 60, she said.
“A lot of our visitors are families with small children,” Shelvin said.
A dozen unions representing 17,000 employees in Disneyland and the surrounding resort area sent a letter to Newsom last Wednesday, urging him to not approve Disney’s reopening plans. The unions are concerned about the lack of virus testing and other safety measures.
The Orange County Labor Federation, along with various union leaders, tried to host a news conference pushing County officials to readopt the mask order last Tuesday. The conference was interrupted by the anti-mask crowd that’s been constantly showing up to Supervisors meetings since Quick issued the mask order last month.
At Monday’s news conference, Rev. Sarah Halverson-Cano recalled last Tuesday’s failed news conference.
“This is a very traumatic experience for us that has been deemed ‘fake news,’” Halverson-Cano said. “People intended to will a lethal virus on us.”
Last Tuesday, unmasked people began crowding the news conference and yelling at speakers through megaphones.
“Their intention was to frighten us,” Halverson-Cano said. “To bully us into submission.”
Donta Harrison, a representative from the United Domestic Workers of America, said their caregiver employees have said elderly people are increasingly afraid to leave their homes because of the mask debate.
“We heard from the senior community that they are very afraid in what they’re seeing in regards to people not wanting to wear masks. They know they are very vulnerable … a lot of our folks are afraid to leave the home.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
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