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EL CAJON, Calif. – El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells says he will not enforce California’s new statewide indoor mask mandate, saying he believes wearing a mask is a personal choice and arguing case numbers don’t support it.

“I’m not telling people that they can’t wear a mask,” Wells said. “I’m not telling people they can’t require people coming into their businesses to wear masks. That’s a personal decision. I’m just saying we’re not going to enforce it.”

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the changes were prompted by what he called a 47% increase in COVID-19 case rates across the state since Thanksgiving. He said over that time, the statewide rate of daily new cases went from 9.6 per 100,000 residents to more than 14 per 100,000.

The statewide mask mandate will remain in place until Jan. 15. Among the indoor public spaces affected are retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices that serve the public.

According to the state, roughly half of California’s population already lives in counties that had local mask-wearing mandates in place — but that does not include San Diego County.

In addition to imposing the mask mandate, the state also toughened the restriction for unvaccinated people who attend indoor “mega-events” of 1,000 people or more, requiring them to receive a negative COVID test within one day of the event if it’s a rapid antigen test or within two days for a PCR test. The previous rule required a test within 72 hours of the event.

State officials also are recommending, but not requiring, that people who travel to California or return to the state after traveling be tested for COVID within three to five days.

Ghaly said state officials also acted in hopes of avoiding the dramatic surge in cases experienced statewide last year during the winter holiday months.

“As we look at the evidence that masks do make a difference, even a 10% increase in indoor masking can reduce case transmission significantly,” he said Monday.

But Wells argues that increasing enforcement of mask guidelines “doesn’t make any sense.”

Yeni Flores, owner of Yeni Salon and Beauty on Main Street in downtown El Cajon, feels differently. She says she will enforce the mask-wearing in her shop, particularly in the midst of the holiday season. 

Yeni Flores, owner of Yeni Salon and Beauty in downtown El Cajon, talks to a FOX 5 reporter on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (Paul Makarushka, FOX 5)

“You never know where (people have) been,” Flores said. “They travel, they haven’t traveled. It’s happening. COVID is still there.”

Flores is cautious with good reason, too. Her daughter had COVID-19 earlier this year and survived, but other family members were not so lucky.

“My husband’s family had people passing from COVID,” she said. “It was sad. So, from that, we need to be more careful.”

City News Service contributed to this report.