A divided Huntington Beach City Council voted today to seek a ban of universal mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the city.
The motion passed with a 4-3 vote during a marathon meeting that ended at 2:48 a.m.
Under the city's action, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 would still be required to wear masks in certain settings.
Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark introduced the motion at Tuesday night's meeting.
The council voted to direct the city manager to work with the city attorney on language for a resolution, said Councilman Dan Kalmick, who voted against the motion.
In the motion, Van Der Mark said mask mandates imposed at City Hall and other parts of the city in 2020 and 2021 "unnecessarily limited the freedoms of the citizens of Huntington Beach -- even those who were not around anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 or at risk of any exposure."
Van Der Mark's resolution requests the city manager to return to the council with a resolution at the next regular meeting declaring the city to be a "no mask and no vaccine mandate city'' as a response to COVID-19 or any variants.
"Individuals, whether at City Hall or in the private sector, should have a right to choose whether to wear a mask or get vaccinated or boosted,'' it reads.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise again recently in Orange County and neighboring Los Angeles County, according to data from those county's health departments.
The number of hospital patients statewide who test positive for COVID-19 is also on the upswing after several weeks of decline, with 1,668 COVID- positive patients reported by the state health department in the latest data.
Orange County had 79 such patients as of Aug. 26, the most recent data available from the state.
Despite the city's action, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said any such resolution would lack any authority because the state sets health policies for California.
"The state is the only entity to order public health orders,'' Foley said. "We learned this over the last three years. Nothing has changed. A city can do more, but not do less.''
Foley added that no one is proposing any mandates.
"The reality is COVID is increasing, but it's mostly impacting seniors who are immunocompromised and little kids, but we have so many resources available now to residents,'' Foley said. "They can go to their
local drug store, their own doctor, a community clinic. No matter what the city they live in those resources will continue to be available. If people choose to wear masks that is their choice.''
Kalmick characterized the city action as a "ridiculous motion."
"We're not a public health agency. We're a public policy agency,'' Kalmick said.
Kalmick added there is no evidence any mandates were forthcoming anywhere.
"It was a straw man argument that this is going to happen,'' Kalmick said. "No one is talking about universal mask or vaccine mandates.''
The state Department of Public Health issued a statement that "recommends that all Californians continue to use all available tools to help mitigate the spread of not just COVID-19, but all respiratory viruses in their community. While masking may not be required, we recommend individuals wear masks in certain scenarios, as outlined in our masking guidance.''
The state also continued to urge everyone to remain up to date on current vaccines for COVID-19 and for other respiratory viruses, like flu and RSV.
"Masking and vaccines, however, are just two of many preventative measures individuals can take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. Stay home and get tested if you're feeling sick. If positive for COVID- 19, seek treatment -- reach out to your health care provider to learn about available COVID-19 treatments. Maintain good ventilation, keeping windows and doors open when possible, running heating or air conditioning systems, and even consider portable air cleaners. These protective measures, in addition to vaccination and masking, are even more important for those at higher risk of severe illness, such as the elderly, pregnant individuals, infants, and individuals with weak immune systems or other chronic medical problems."