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In California: Who’s enforcing the state’s curfew? And can you sue over a mask?


Plus: Should farmworkers be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine? And sacked San Francisco lab worker may have tainted more than 800 cases.

TGIF, everyone! We are less than a week away from Thanksgiving. I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs …

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.

Who’s enforcing Newsom’s curfew?

One of the questions that had people scratching their heads Thursday after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the statewide evening curfew was: “Just who is going to enforce this?”

The answer, it seems, is … few, if any.

The Orange County Register reports that a number of law enforcement officials across Southern California have said they have no plans to arrest people or even issue fines to those who violate the 10 p.m. curfew, which was ordered to begin Saturday after a surge of coronavirus infections.

Instead, agencies said they plan to educate people on the public health rules in the hopes that they will willingly comply.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has taken an education-first approach with regard to public health orders,” said Sheriff Don Barnes via statement.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his department was taking a similar tack; however, deputies might be asked to enforce the new rules as “an extreme last resort.”

In Riverside County, Sheriff Chad Bianco took to Facebook to say: “It has been the policy of the Sheriff’s Department to encourage responsible behavior and compliance with the Governor’s orders. To ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies, we will not be responding to calls for service based solely on non-compliance with the new order or social distancing and mask guidelines.”

As for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, a spokeswoman said officials were still reviewing the new order and have yet to decide how they will handle them.

In July, the city of Costa Mesa announced that people without appropriate face coverings in some public spaces would be subject to a ticket or a fine. Since that time, only one person has been arrested for violating the order.

Should farmworkers be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine?

A coalition of 11 farmworker advocacy organizations say California farmworkers, who have continued to grow and harvest fruits and vegetables during the coronavirus pandemic, should be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine when a safe and effective one becomes available.

While pharmaceutical companies still have more hurdles to clear before vaccines can be distributed, health officials are already determining who should get the shot first.

An interim draft of California’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, issued Oct. 16, breaks the first phase of vaccination into two parts. Health care professionals would be eligible first, followed by other essential workers and people at increased risk of severe illness or death from the virus. While farmworkers would likely fall under phase two, advocates are arguing that they should be eligible as soon as possible because of their particular vulnerability to COVID-19: being exposed to the virus at work or while carpooling to job sites and living in overcrowded housing.

They also highlight the workers’ essential contributions. “This population provides the food that this country is eating,” said George Tudor, an eastern Coachella Valley grower and the president of Growing Coachella Valley. “The population is also statistically shown to be very vulnerable. How could they not be a priority?”

As of Sept. 19, it’s estimated that more than an 15,700 California agricultural workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Can you sue for being forced to wear a mask?

We’ve all seen the videos: A person insists on entering a local business without an appropriate face covering and then threatens to sue after being told they’re not welcome unless they put on a mask. But can someone really sue a business for making them wear a mask? No. At least, not really.

Business law attorney Daniella V. Hernandez, in an opinion piece that appeared in The Press-Enterprise, writes: “Business owners in California have the right to require that you wear face masks under new laws created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and those that existed before the health crisis.”

She’s referencing the California Department of Public Health’s Nov. 16 mandate requiring the use of face coverings at all times outside the home. However, there are exceptions. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, a business cannot refuse service to a customer if they are physically unable to wear a mask.

And for those who say they have a constitutional free speech right to enter establishments without masks, Hernandez writes that “constitutional free speech rights do not apply to private businesses since the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution only applies to government infringement of an individual’s right to free speech.”

COVID-19: California OKs stricter workplace safety rules

California officials on Thursday approved new regulations requiring employers to implement safety measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The new rules, approved by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, will require businesses to educate employees on how to prevent infection in addition to providing free personal protective equipment and offering free COVID-19 testing to all employees if three or more employees are infected with the coronavirus within a 14-day period.

The emergency standards — which are similar to those recently implemented in Oregon, Michigan and Virginia — take effect within 10 days and will last for at least six months.

Labor groups said the new regulations are needed to set clear, enforceable standards. But not everyone was onboard with the new standard.

Speaking on behalf of a San Francisco-based group representing the Pacific coast shipping industry, Mike Hall said shipping companies are already spending more than $1 million a week on sanitation and cleaning and have had few COVID-19 infections. 

“Over a 14-day period, thousands and thousands of workers pass through port facilities in Southern California,” Hall said. “If there was an occurrence of three individuals with the virus, the facility would have to test thousands and thousands of workers during the working hours every single week. This is just impossible.”

Teachers, janitors and factory, hotel and restaurant workers, on the other hand, urged the board to approve the new regulations. Virgilda Romero, who works in the garment industry, said she contracted the virus at work where her employer did not provide soap for washing hands and did not inform them when a colleague was off due to COVID.

“After I returned to work, the bosses told me a colleague had died from COVID,” she said. “I’m worried I can get sick again and infect my family.”

D.A.: Sacked San Francisco lab worker may have tainted more than 800 cases

A former forensic lab analyst with the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office who was fired after allegedly driving with an evidence bag of methamphetamine and other pills may have inappropriately impacted more than 800 resolved criminal prosecutions, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said Friday.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that from 2009 to 2020, Justin Volk did lab work for prosecution cases that included DUIs, rapes and murders and that Volk’s work in those cases — 822 have been documented so far — may need to be reviewed to make sure they aren’t tainted. This will likely cost the nearly half a million dollars.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Friday that his office has “acted with great urgency” in handling the allegations and that it will make reviewing the convictions in which Volk was involved a priority.

“Ensuring the integrity of our convictions is of the utmost importance, and for that reason, we are publishing this information as part of our commitment to integrity and transparency in the criminal legal system,” Boudin said via statement.

That’s all for now. Have a safe and informed weekend.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: The Press-Enterprise, San Francisco Chronicle

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