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Newsom, other Calif. Dems criticized for maskless photos at NFC Championship

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. shown speaking in San Bernardino, California, on January 21, drew flak for apparently flouting Los Angeles County masking requirements. File Photo by Eric Thayer/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/c5dcbb070ee054f2a952d0d8ef3802fc/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
California Gov. Gavin Newsom. shown speaking in San Bernardino, California, on January 21, drew flak for apparently flouting Los Angeles County masking requirements. File Photo by Eric Thayer/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A trio of top Democratic political leaders in California were criticized Monday after photos of them posing maskless at the NFC Championship Game in Los Angeles surfaced on social media.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and San Francisco Mayor London Breed were seen without masks at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., in pictures posted by NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson during Sunday's game between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

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The images show them in apparent violation of a Los Angeles County mandate requiring people to wear masks indoors and at major sporting events regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

The photos led to immediate criticism of the political leaders.

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Jonathan Zachreson, founder of a parents group advocating that California schools be reopened five days per week and a candidate for the California State Assembly, tweeted, "If [Newsom] can attend an indoor mega-event MASKLESS with tens of thousands of other maskless fans, then so can our kids at school, especially when playing at recess!"

Newsom on Monday defended his actions, telling reporters, "I was trying to be gracious [to Johnson], and I took the mask off for a brief second. I encourage people to continue to wear them."

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The Republican National Committee, however, continued to take shots at the governor over the incident, posting television video of him greeting Johnson without a mask before the photos were taken.

"The video contradicts Newsom's assertion today that he only removed his mask 'for a brief second' when he 'took a photo,'" the RNC tweeted.

The controversy comes as some Californians have ramped up pressure on the state and cities to relax COVID-19 restrictions after officials earlier this month extended the mask mandate through Feb. 15 amid surging cases of the Omicron variant.

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Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, a Republican, said in a statement the episode showed that "masking rules set by the state and county weren't followed consistently by everyone at yesterday's NFC Championship.

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"Let's do away with blanket COVID-19 masking policies -- they don't make a difference when they're not consistently followed or enforced," she said. "We need to trust the public to make the best personal decisions for themselves based on their unique risks and circumstances."

Los Angeles County Health Department Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, however, disagreed as the county reported nearly 11,000 new COVID-19 cases with more than 3,700 people remaining hospitalized on Monday.

"While we see that at some large events where everyone is vaccinated or has a negative test result, like Sunday's NFC Championship Game, many were observed not wearing masks, [such] low compliance ... is not a sufficient reason to end the requirement," Ferrer said in an update.

"That would be like eliminating speed limits because so many drivers ignore them and feel that they can assess for themselves the safe speed for their travel," she said.

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