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To wear or not to wear: Siskiyou residents have mixed opinions on masks

Barry Kaye and Skye Kinkade
Children and their parents don masks as they check in to the Boys ad Girls Club of Greater Shasta on their first day back Monday at Sisson School in Mount Shasta. Special precautions are in place to keep campers safe, said executive director Noam Zimin, and the first of those precautions is the wearing of masks.

To wear, or not to wear: that is the question.

Actually, wearing a mask is a mandate in California, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But on a scorching June day in Siskiyou County with the temperature nearing triple digits, not everyone is following the rule.

Siskiyou County has recorded more new cases in June than double all previous months combined (18 in June compared to seven in previous months). In addition, the increase in cases in June has outpaced the increase in testing. From June 1 to June 26, Siskiyou County saw testing increase 80%, but cases increased 225%.

Some people claim health exemptions for wearing masks, or that they are inconvenient and annoying in the heat. But there also are those who say the governor has overstepped his authority when he ordered masks on every face.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said the county has seen a spike in recent positive tests and “every citizen has the obligation to do what they can to reduce the potential dangers posed to themselves, their families and other citizens.”

No enforcement guidelines were mentioned in the governor's orders, but California Department of Public Health officials said the mask order carries the same weight as other state orders, with possible financial and other penalties.

When it comes to actual enforcement, Lopey is waiting to see how the situation evolves.

“There is authority to enforce health officer provisions,” he said but declined to say if officers would begin writing citations, hoping instead that common sense will prevail while at the same time maintaining enforcement as an option in the “proverbial tool box.”

“I also do not want to send the wrong message that the county is not enforcing guidelines, which will tend, in my opinion, to give county residents and the many visitors to our county the justification to violate these important guidelines or mandates with little prospect of consequences,” he said.

Health officials consider masks a reliable defensive measure against the spread of coronavirus as they prevent those infected from spreading the virus through droplets exiting their mouth and nose.

California is not the only state with a mask directive. Michigan, New York, Maine, Delaware and Maryland also have statewide mask orders. In Florida and North Carolina, mask directives have been met with resistance ranging from protests to mask-burning events, according to USA Today.

In Siskiyou County, more people testing for COVID-19 are receiving positive results. The positivity rate has climbed from about 0.4% in late May to about 0.85% in late June, meaning twice as many people getting tested are getting positive results.

Siskiyou County’s testing per capita is slightly better than some other counties in the North State. Siskiyou County has conducted about 68 tests per 1,000 residents, ahead of Shasta at about 66 and Tehama at 56.

As of Monday morning, Siskiyou County had a total of 27 positive cases. Of those, four were active and 67 people were waiting for results, the Siskiyou County Public Health Department reported.

Shopping in Siskiyou

At some of Yreka’s largest retailers on Sunday, including Walmart, Raley’s and JC Penney – which was holding a sale to liquidate its inventory before closing permanently – the majority of shoppers weren’t wearing masks. The employees of the three businesses were, however, and there were notices in the stores that asked shoppers to wear a face covering.

In Mount Shasta on Friday, the majority of shoppers at Ray’s were masked, although some people shopped with their faces uncovered despite a sign on the doors requiring a mask. All store employees wore masks.

At Mount Shasta Supermarket and Dunsmuir Supermarket all employees wear masks and a sign at the front door instructs anyone entering the stores to do the same – a request that has been honored.

Public perspectives

“At first, I thought it was not a big deal,” said Corey Rossetto who lives in Dunsmuir. But she said once she started researching COVID-19 she now feels it is simply “the right thing to do.”

“It is to help protect other people. That is the main reason I started wearing it,” said Rossetto, who is also a cancer survivor. “It’s serious. It is just a little mask – that’s all. Put it on.”

“I do not wear a mask in public because I feel it is a violation of my civil rights,” said Emma Burnett on a Siskiyou Daily News Facebook post asking for opinions on face coverings. “It should be a choice ... the government is not in control of my health,” she said.

“Thanks Emma,” wrote Trina Cramer in response. “You are 100% correct – especially a virus that has over a 90% recovery rate ... if others are concerned or at risk it is also their right to stay home or wear a mask, whatever makes them feel comfortable or is best for them.”

“I quit going to (Walmart),” wrote Peggy Peck of Fort Jones. “It’s a horror show in there. I'm around far to many old and compromised people to take this flippantly. Shopping online is the way safer way to go. We are not invincible. Every time you open your mouth you spew bacteria and mucus ... so logically it makes sense to wear a mask in public. What this comes down to is compromise and respect for your fellow humans. And respect for this virus. Do you have respect? It shows right there on your face.”

“I think everyone should wear the masks unless it has to do with your health,” wrote Jeanette Mobbley of Weed. “Like not being able to breathe due to asthma, emphysema or COPD or anything else like that. I wear one because of my husband who has all three of these ... I do understand that there’s a lot of opposition to this. But if it will keep my husband and others around me safe then I will.”

“I don’t wear a mask unless the place I am entering requires it,” said Dorothy Irwin. “I think long term health is better achieved without a mask. I try to keep my distance from people and cover my coughs and sneezes. I think this whole situation has been an overblown reaction. I really worry about the government control being exerted and what this means in the future. At any time, even before (COVID-19) we could be a carrier of something and pass it along to someone. Do people really want to wear a mask for the rest of their lives anytime they are in public?”

Melisa Knapp-Johansson said the issue shouldn’t be about government control. “We need to stop the spread so we can ‘re-open’ and allow people to get back to work,” she said. “We need families and business back making a living, how can we do that when COVID is still spreading because people don’t mask up and don't social distance. COVID is significantly different than anything in our past ... and hopefully our future.”

“Everyone cheers healthcare workers but completely disrespects them by not wearing a mask, along with all others who come in proximity to them,” commented Rita Wood.

“I wear the mask,” said Pamela Jenkins. “My great grandmother told me as a child how proud she was that her family was the only family on the block who did not have a family member die of the 1918 flu. Three of her children caught it, but my grandfather did not. He was isolated in the kitchen in a bed surrounded by sheets hanging from the ceiling whose ends were in disinfectant, so the liquid wicked up the sheets. So I wear the mask to protect you! I hope you will do the same for me.”

“I live in Weed surrounded by many people who deny that we need to mask up,” said Monica Zinda. “The people who aren’t complaining are the workers who might be wearing a mask eight hours or more! They know how necessary this is. Medical reasons aside, I don’t understand why people can’t wear a mask for the 20-30 minutes it takes to run an errand. Masks are sometimes uncomfortable but not that much and not for that long.”

Judy Beaver said she believes more people will wear masks if they see others in Yreka and Scott Valley wearing them.

Cathy Leavens said she’s received dirty looks from people when she wears a mask which makes her feel uncomfortable.

Garcia SoSoulcali said he wears a mask inside a store to comply with the law but rips it off the minute he steps outside because it is uncomfortable and he does “not believe they protect at all.”

“To be honest – I hate wearing my mask,” said Mount Shasta’s Dawn Snure, adding that, “I care about saving lives, mine and others, and because of that I will do what I have to – even if I don’t like it.”

Damon Arthur and Matt Brannon, both reporters with the Redding Record Searchlight, contributed to this report.