Refusing to Wear a Mask in Berkeley Can Now Get You Fined $100

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Students wearing masks at UC Berkeley walk through Sather Gate
 (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Going maskless in Berkeley could now get you fined.

In an effort to crack down on those refusing to follow the city's mask and social distancing mandates, the Berkeley City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night that allows enforcement officers to issue a $100 administrative citation if someone fails to comply after a warning.

The new mask ordinance will be enforced by environmental health and neighborhood services and other city divisions, who will focus on citing large gatherings in parks, restaurants and parties — especially involving college students.

Berkeley’s mask mandate requires everyone to wear a face covering when outside and within 30 feet of another person, unless you:

  • Have documentation from a medical professional that advises you not to wear a face covering
  • Have trouble breathing or a physical disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering
  • Are not able to take off a face covering without help
  • Are in a work situation where wearing a face covering would create a safety hazard

If you are deaf and use facial and mouth movements as part of communication, you're permitted to remove your mask while signing.

More than 20 cities and counties throughout California have already issued similar ordinances — including Contra Costa, Napa and Sonoma counties. To find out more about Berkeley's new ordinance, KQED spoke with:

  • Kate Harrison, Berkeley Councilmember
  • Thao Nguyen, The Daily Californian reporter and UC Berkeley student
  • Eden Teller, Berkeleyside reporter who’s been covering this mandate

These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity. Hear the full KQED Forum show here.

How does the mask ordinance actually work?

Eden Teller: It's another step up from the education, the encouragement, the social media campaigns that officials have had so far, to encourage people to wear masks. This is more for people who have been warned: They've been given the information, even been given a mask, and either they continue to hold parties at a certain location, [or] maybe it's a business that has tables too close together on its patio. But this is a step in between education and criminal action for people who are posing a public health risk.

Kate Harrison: The city has handed out 2,000 free masks and has done a lot in the education sphere. What we need, though, is an enforcement tool for those few people that refuse to wear a mask on repeated request.

The focus is on gatherings of more than 12 people. ... If we see gatherings of more than that in parks, or at parties, in outside restaurants without masks while they're not eating, we will be giving out warnings after first offering masks.

A cyclist in Berkeley wears a mask. Not wearing one in the city could now get you fined $100. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

How will the law be enforced?

Kate Harrison: The police could hand out warnings and citations, but the focus is on it being our [Berkeley City Council] staff in code enforcement. It's like all of our administrative citations: They start with a warning, and then move to a citation — which is smaller at the first citation, then grows up to $500.

Listen to Forum

I don't think we’ll be doing a lot of this, because Marin County, for example, has only given out four citations the entire time it had this ordinance ... It's not about the money, it’s about saving people's lives.

Eden Teller: I know that [the ordinance] does leave it to the city manager to waive the fee if someone can prove that it would be a financial burden, and that they're also going to come into compliance.

What if I just need some fresh air?

Kate Harrison: Our rules state that when you see [another person] within 30 feet, you should begin to put on your mask. And the idea of the 30 foot rule is that you're moving towards each other, [so] you want to get that mask on within 6 feet of each other. So there's not going to be any intention to cite people who are individually walking, as long as they are not within a distance of other people.

We're not going after people doing the right thing, or a person who just forgot when they went to the grocery store ... This is for people who are flouting the law, and know that they're doing that well.


Can I report someone who is violating the mask mandate?

Thao Nguyen on public spaces: If it's just people living in their private residences ... then they report it to the public through the Berkeley city itself. But also people are aware that it's hard to really gauge these situations, and are mainly using the social media platforms as a way to shame [violators].

Kate Harrison on inside apartment buildings: I think the first step is to talk to your landlord. This can be considered a rental safety issue, and you can contact our rental safety division. We also have a mediation program in Berkeley Seeds, if your neighbor would be willing to participate, which they may not.

Have people been complying with mask guidelines in Berkeley?

Eden Teller: By and large, I've been very impressed with mass compliance in Berkeley, and social distancing. I don't live anywhere close to a business district or campus, but people who I most frequently see not wearing masks — or putting them on when they approach others — are people who are working out.

What I've heard through people that I spoke with for the story, or from people who do live closer to businesses or campus, is that the bigger issues are people who are hosting gatherings. Or like, a business who's not really monitoring any capacity or closeness.

Kate Harrison: We're at the six-month mark at this point. We did see finally a slight decline in cases of hospitalizations last week, but that was because of two weeks of people not — I think — going outside, because of the smoke. People have been very good about wearing masks because of the smoke. I want us to keep that up.

I want us to understand that this is an extremely easy and inexpensive way to save a life.