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Police Have Cited Just One Person In San Diego County For Not Wearing Face Covering

Restaurant workers in Old Town San Diego wear facial coverings due to COVID-1...

Photo by Bennett Lacy

Above: Restaurant workers in Old Town San Diego wear facial coverings due to COVID-19 restrictions.

San Diego County has required everyone to wear facial coverings when they leave home since May 1. But so far just one person countywide has been cited for being out in public without one.

The new public health order was clear: "If you leave your place, cover your face," meaning a cloth face covering is required in public if you’re within 6 feet of another person who is not from your household.

While law enforcement agencies throughout the county are tasked with enforcing the rule, the lone citation was written by the San Diego Sheriff's Department, said Lt. Ricardo Lopez, a department spokesman.

"For the most part, we get compliance by education," Lopez said. "A lot of people just don't know, not everyone watches the news, and the rules have changed so many times over the last nine weeks. We've gone as far as carrying a copy of the public health order and handing them out."

RELATED: How Local Police Are Making Arrests, Handling Stress In The Coronavirus Era

Eyal Oren, an epidemiologist at San Diego State, said wearing face coverings is a highly effective way to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

"When we look at how many droplets of saliva are flung into the air by somebody talking with and without a face mask, we see that when someone even uses a simple cloth face mask nearly all droplets are blocked," he said.

In addition, Oren said studies have shown that microdroplets from a person's mouth fall out of the air at a much closer distance when someone is wearing a mask, and that unfitted surgical masks were completely effective in blocking seasonal coronaviruses.

He said if 80 percent of people wore a mask in public "we could almost completely stop this transmission."

In the future, the Sheriff's Department could move into a phase beyond education where deputies begin writing citations for violating the facial covering rule, Lopez said.

"The masks rule will likely be around for a while," he said. "So if we see a spike and correlate it with people not wearing masks, then we may try to contact more people and issue citations. If we see that a particular area has been affected or is not complying with wearing masks after being educated, then the issuance of citations would most likely increase."

RELATED: Only Sheriff, San Diego Police Have Cited Nonessential Businesses For Staying Open

The facial covering rule is one aspect of the overall public health order. It has also prohibited nonessential businesses from operating and public gatherings of 10 or more people. So far, the Sheriff’s Department has written 137 citations for violating the public health order, mostly to people who were in closed public spaces like parks and being out for nonessential reasons, Lopez said.

However, as the county has loosened its rules and allowed more parks to reopen, the department has stopped writing citations — the last ones were issued May 15, Lopez said.

The only other law enforcement agencies that have given more than a handful of coronavirus-related citations are the San Diego and Carlsbad police departments. In San Diego, they have been focused on nonessential business being open and people out at beaches and parks when they were closed. The department wrote 152 citations in April, but none in May, including the holiday weekend.

Carlsbad police also did not issue any citations over the Memorial Day Weekend. The department had a plan to patrol beaches and newly-opened restaurants to tell people to follow the rules without writing citations, spokeswoman Jodee Reyes said.

"We responded to every call for service about restaurants thought to be in violation of health orders," Reyes said. "We assessed the environment and educated the businesses on the rules. We found businesses want to do what is necessary to keep the community safe and stay open."

Carlsbad police have written 157 citations since April 1, mostly to people who were out in closed beaches or parks. It hasn’t written any since the public spaces reopened.

Oceanside police have issued three citations, Chula Vista police one and El Cajon none.

In addition, the Metropolitan Transit Service has issued two tickets to people who weren't wearing facial coverings on buses or trolleys.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

This story has been updated to include two tickets given out by MTS to people who weren't wearing facial coverings.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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