A few weeks ago, as of July 9, Alameda County reported 6,887 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 140 deaths. This week, the case count shot up to 8,932 and deaths rose to 161. That’s roughly a 30% increase in cases and a 15% increase in deaths.

The Tri-Valley’s case count increased alongside the rest of the county. As we watch the numbers rise and schools deem even a hybrid return to classrooms unsafe, cities should consider ways to enforce mask compliance. In Paris, someone caught without a mask is issued a fine. That city has a 90% mask compliance rate. According to Axios/Ipsos polling, only 64% of residents polled in California wear masks when they leave home. At the last Livermore City Council meeting, City Manager Marc Roberts reported the prevalence of people following face covering requirements downtown to be low, with about 50% compliance in areas downtown closed to traffic and fewer outside that area. A quick walk down First Street frequently shows a party scene of people who are clearly tired of COVID-19 and have lost their sense of urgency.

While the efficacy of mask wearing came with some mixed messages in the beginning of the pandemic, we’re at the point now where we know they work. In an experiment conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, a high-speed video found hundreds of saliva droplets were generated by a person saying a simple phrase. Nearly all of those droplets were blocked by a mouth covering. Health Affairs published a study that compared the COVID-19 growth rate in 15 states before and after mask ordinances were in effect. The difference was a slowdown in the daily case growth rate.

We all want to get out. We want businesses to thrive, especially those mom ‘n’ pop shops that hold the heart of the community. The outdoor dining atmosphere offers a certain charm. But unless people are eating and drinking outside, mask compliance needs improvement.

As Jessica Buscho — a young mother of three from Livermore with Stage 4 colon cancer — points out, while it’s a tough time for everyone, it’s a worse time for the most vulnerable. Cancer treatments are being delayed during the pandemic; she’s lost a dozen friends in her cancer community since March.

“I should not be scared to go to my cancer center and neither should anyone else,” Buscho wrote on social media, while urging people to wear masks. “No one should have treatment delays because of someone else's selfish behaviors.”

Our three cities have the duty to ensure public health, which comes with the task of enforcing compliance. Cities could staff up to remind those without masks that they are violating the city’s policy. Business owners who want to continue operations during the pandemic would be wise to make sure their patrons comply with social distancing and mask use.

It would be a terrible time to fine people for their failure to wear masks, given so many have lost their jobs. Fines should be a last resort. But it might soon become our only option when there are so many who have lost their lives.