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Civil fines now an option for people who refuse to wear a mask in Bend

People who refuse to wear a mask in public spaces as required by state order could now face a civil fine in the city of Bend.

After more than an hour of debate, the Bend City Council voted 4-3 on Thursday to allow police and code enforcement officers to issue a local fine for people who will not wear a mask in public spaces until the county enters Phase 3 or Gov. Kate Brown rescinds her mask order. The order takes effect immediately.

A person could be fined $100 for a first violation, $250 for the second and $500 for the third.

Mayor Sally Russell, who modeled this order after a similar one passed in Santa Monica, California, said she believes having a clear enforcement mechanism can make educating the public more effective.

“This is a pandemic,” Russell said Thursday. “We need to keep our community safe.”

The city’s move follows in the footsteps of other cities looking for ways to get better mask-wearing compliance as COVID-19 cases spike across the nation, according to city attorneys.

Deschutes County has seen a troubling trend upward in the percentage of positive COVID-19 test results in the month of July, said Nahad Sadr-Azodi, deputy director of Deschutes County Public Health.

The city council ratified a travel advisory, which discourages non-essential travel through Labor Day, as well on Thursday.

The civil fines are a step down from what is already on the books for enforcement — Brown’s executive order says anyone who ignores the mask mandate could be subject to a Class C misdemeanor.

A majority of the council supported having some kind of financial consequence to motivate people to follow the order without going as far as charging someone with a crime.

But three members of the council — Bill Moseley, Chris Piper and Justin Livingston — voted against issuing fines, arguing that it was redundant since there are other existing ways businesses could enforce the mask order through kicking customers out or using the misdemeanor in the state’s order.

Moseley also questioned whether issuing fines was a good use of law enforcement’s time.

“Is it more important to use law enforcement resources to enforce this or for human trafficking? Drug addictions in the community?” Moseley said Thursday. “I think they have much better ways to spend their time.”

There was also skepticism about whether fines were needed. Interim Bend Police Chief Paul Kansky in a report to the City Council said the department had not received any calls from businesses asking for help to enforce the mask mandate, and that of 25 businesses he called, none reported issues.

“We’re not seeing the data to suggest that so far,” he said.

The governor’s office has asked that complaints are directed to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division.

The City Council also voted 4-3 to direct staff to develop other regulations for rentals and hotels aimed at reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. Some of these regulations include requiring a gap of up to 48 hours between when a party checks out and another checks in, requiring lodging facilities to notify guests of mask and social-distancing measures, and requiring a confirmation of no positive COVID-19 tests within 14 days from a guest with symptoms.

Requiring adequate personal protective equipment for cleaning staff and maintaining a guest log to be used for contact tracing will also be explored.

More specific details are expected to be brought to the City Council to ratify on Aug. 5.

Blue disposable surgical masks on vintage wooden board. (SBG file photo)