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City Council Pulls Back on Mandatory Masks for Polliwog

Apr 29, 2020 03:58PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach City Council on Wednesday voted to remove the "mandatory" requirement for face coverings at Polliwog Park. This marks a reversal of the council's earlier position that face coverings were required at all times in the park. Face coverings will continue to be encouraged but not required.

The motion carried on a 3-2 vote, with council members Steve Napolitano, Nancy Hersman, and Suzanne Hadley in favor, and Mayor Richard Montgomery and council member Hildy Stern opposed.

The action took place just two days after the council had directed city staff to order signage reminding visitors that face coverings are mandatory. 

The debate and subsequent reversal reflected the struggle that the council - and all policymakers - have grappled with with in the light of this unprecedented pandemic crisis: when to re-open, how quickly, with what requirements, and guided by what benchmarks.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Department of Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 1,541 COVID-19 cases in the county for the day - the largest single-day increase in the number of cases so far.

The total reported cases since the pandemic began is 22,485 for Los Angeles County and 66 for Manhattan Beach.

Seeking Consistency

Napolitano said he brought forward the motion because of concerns about dedicating already-stretched city resources to enforcing the face covering requirement. 

Napolitano also pointed to the fact that Ocean Drive and the Greenbelt have been heavily used without a face covering requirement, and the city had not seen a large uptick in cases. At the same time, he noted the that city issued more than 200 warnings for visitors failing to wear a mask at Polliwog over the weekend.

"The problem of consistency is what we’re having trouble with," he said.

Napolitano added that if Manhattan Beach is able to continue to have Polliwog open without a large increase in cases, and continues to stress social distancing, then the city should relieve city staff of the burden of face covering enforcement and "baby-sitting."

"I don’t want to see any spikes but we also need to roll things out in a smart way, and staff can’t keep enforcing this in the same way across the city [if we open more parks], he said. Requiring face masks creates a false expectation that the city would be able to enforce the requirement, he added. "It’s an unwinnable situation."

Hersman agreed, and suggested that instead of trying to continue to enforce mask-wearing, that the city should emphasize social distancing. "Making [face coverings] mandatory; all it’s doing is frustrating everyone," she added.

Hadley, who has spoken in favor of opening more public places sooner, said that it was a matter of risk assessment in her mind. "Several weeks ago, I was big on enforcement. It's several weeks later and the sky hasn’t fallen, so my risk tolerance has gone up," she said.

Creating Confusion?

Yet Montgomery told the council that he was frustrated by the change in position. "My frustration is that we’ve just told everybody, 'Put the message out - mandatory face coverings.' Now we’ll just make it strongly suggested; it’ll make it weaker. People are not complying so we give it up?"

Montgomery added that over the weekend he saw plenty of people wearing face coverings without having an issue with it. "People felt safer walking by each other because they had facial coverings on."

Stern added a note of caution, and given that Manhattan Beach seems to be weathering the crisis relatively well, urged the council to stay the course. "We have overwhelming evidence that social distancing and using masks are what’s helping us. That’s what our goal is - our goal is to keep things working really well," she said.

Trial Opening for Polliwog

Polliwog Park had re-opened on a trial basis on Saturday, with city officials calling the limited opening a success.

Over the weekend, city manager Bruce Moe reported, staff gave 223 warnings to visitors about wearing face coverings. On Monday and Tuesday, he said, there were 504 visitors observed, and 63 percent of them (or approximately 318) were wearing face coverings.

Moe said that in many cases, children were not wearing face coverings because their parents were not aware that face coverings were required for anyone over age two. He said that in general, people were compliant with requests, and in many cases, went back to a car to get a face covering.

On Monday, the city council had directed staff to expand on the signage to emphasize that face coverings were mandatory.

Following Wednesday's policy reversal, senior management analyst George Gabriel told DigMB that the city will keep the signage and store it. Given that the situation is fluid, he said, the signage may be used in the future or could be repurposed for alternative means at a later date.

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