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Stanislaus County COVID-19 health order requires masks inside. A city council defied it

The Modesto Bee logoThe Modesto Bee 9/11/2021 Ken Carlson and John Holland, The Modesto Bee

Sep. 10—Three members of the Oakdale City Council failed to wear face masks at their first meeting following a Stanislaus County order requiring them to be worn in indoor public spaces.

Ericka Chiara, Curtis Haney and Fred Smith were mask-less throughout the hour-long meeting Tuesday night, a video on the city website shows.

The only mask user was Councilman Christopher Smith, who conducted the meeting in the absence of Mayor Cherilyn Bairos.

Chiara, Haney and Fred Smith did not respond to The Modesto Bee's emailed requests for comment as of noon Friday.

Christopher Smith said by email Thursday that he got complaints about what happened.

"I share the public's frustration and concerns about the council members flouting the county's mask mandate," he said. "Prior to the meeting, I offered a mask to each of my fellow council members and asked them to wear it. Each declined."

The council will get another try at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13. It will hold a workshop on general goals for Oakdale and on federal money that will ease COVID-19's impact on city functions.

Stanislaus County's mask mandate came 18 months into a pandemic that had killed 1,192 county residents as of Thursday. The deaths have surged in recent days, as have patient counts at hospitals.

The Oakdale council was one of many public bodies that returned to live meetings when COVID-19 appeared to be waning in late spring.

Some public bodies are not meeting this week because of Labor Day, so it's too early to see if compliance with the mask order will be the norm.

The Modesto City Council did meet Tuesday, with two of the seven members in the chamber and others taking part remotely. The video shows both David Wright and Jenny Kenoyer wearing masks on the dais.

The county Board of Supervisors is not meeting this week, other than a closed session Friday on various legal matters. The board will return Sept. 21.

Supervisor Buck Condit, whose district includes Oakdale, declined to comment on any disagreements over masks on the Oakdale council. He said the health order clearly requires face coverings at indoor public meetings.

"I'm not a big fan of mandates myself," Condit said. "It divides people. However, I am a big fan of our local health care system and right now our hospitals are being overrun. (The health order) calls for wearing masks in certain settings to help prevent the spread."

Elizabeth McCuistion, a spokesperson for county public health, said officials are expecting everyone to follow the masking order. It does not have an enforcement mechanism.

The county order applies generally to workplaces, gatherings and other places where the virus might spread. It has some exceptions, such as people who are eating or drinking at a restaurant or working alone in a closed office.

The Oakdale council had been scheduled to meet next on Sept. 20. Monday's workshop was announced Thursday evening.

Christopher Smith is the mayor pro tem, which is why he conducted Tuesday's meeting with Bairos absent.

"I plan on speaking with (Mayor Bairos) upon her return to discuss the importance of the mask mandate being followed at all future city council meetings — by both the audience and all city council members," he said. "The council members should lead the community by setting an example for the rest of the city."

Monday's workshop will be in the council chambers at 277 N. Second Ave., Oakdale.

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