Unsealed masks were included with letters from Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly's mayoral campaign. 

Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen, one of three candidates in next month’s mayoral election, this week criticized Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly for distributing unsealed face masks to city residents.

“It is regrettable that any candidate would put politics ahead of the safety and well-being of our residents,” she said. “Sending an unsealed mask to thousands of homes in our city was frankly irresponsible.”

In a press statement sent to the Citizen on Oct. 17 by Pablo Espinoza, Singh-Allen’s campaign manager, Espinoza wrote that the campaign was contacted by several Elk Grove residents who described the mask distribution as a serious health risk.

Singh-Allen said there are “better” and “safer” ways to make sure that people receive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) “in a way that doesn’t put their health at risk.”

“Through the California Lodging (Industry) Association and the California Office of Emergency Services, I have been able in the last few weeks to deliver around 80,000 masks, face shields and hand sanitizers to our Elk Grove Food Bank, and many of our small businesses, particularly restaurants and hotels in Elk Grove,” she said.

Ly told the Citizen that the masks he sent to city residents were safely placed in envelopes.

“Similarly to how businesses are offering customers free masks, I wanted to drive the point home to wear our masks and maintain social distancing,” he said. “I sent out brand-new masks, and residents should feel free to use them. The masks came in bulk, sealed (packaging) and were stuffed into the envelopes with the utmost care with each employee wearing (a) mask and gloves themselves.”

Ly added that he hired professionals to insert the masks in the envelopes, and that the project was not performed at his campaign headquarters. He also mentioned that he has distributed many bottles of hand sanitizer.

Included in the envelope with the mask was a letter and a photograph highlighting the mayor’s work in distributing 100,000 PPE to firefighters, teachers, health care workers, nonprofits and businesses, since the pandemic began.

The letter mentions the city’s response to the struggles people have faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That response includes Ly and the City Council’s support of a moratorium to protect residential and commercial renters from eviction.

Also included in the letter are references to city building projects, traffic congestion management and public safety.

Ly emphasized that the purpose of sending masks to residents was to serve as a reminder that everyone should wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

Brian Pastor, who is also challenging Ly in the mayoral race and is also a registered disaster health care volunteer, criticized the mailing of unsealed masks to residents.

“It’s unsanitary,” he said. “It’s like giving an unwrapped candy to a child. Being a medical professional, masks should be distributed in a container. They should be sealed in a plastic bag, and usually those come in boxes.”

The Citizen spoke with several Elk Grove voters who shared their thoughts on the masks they received from Ly.

Stephanie Batey, a member of the Elk Grove-South County Democratic Club that endorsed Ly, spoke positively about receiving one of those masks.

“I thought it was a wonderful gesture, recognizing that everybody is living through this horrible pandemic,” she said. “I certainly read and heard those criticisms and I just think that they’re really reaching.

“It seems like any negative thing that (Singh-Allen) can attach to (Ly) or say is what their campaign strategy is.”

Dave Keen, owner of Dave’s Barbershop in Old Town Elk Grove, was not impressed by the mayor’s decision.

“I just think it was a way to buy a vote,” he said.

Keen added that he did not have any concerns about the mask as a safety issue.

“I think it’s fine,” he said. “It was just the issue of ‘Hey, think of me, and I hope you vote for me, and here’s a mask.’”

Kathy Master said that she discarded the envelope and never opened it.

“I threw the whole thing in the garbage,” she said. “I didn’t even open it. I’m not voting for Mr. Ly.”

As for her thoughts on whether she believes that the masks that Ly distributed with the letter and photo present a safety concern, Master said that she was not worried.

“I wouldn’t really be concerned if a mask came in the mail,” she said. “That’s where we’re at right now: trying to keep socially distanced, wear the mask, (and) stay safe. So, I do see what his intention was. I really don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Jean Sadler said that she also threw away the mask she received from the mayor.

“I have my own masks and I make them myself,” she said. “I prefer to use them rather than one that I don’t know (its history). This day and age, you’ve got to pay attention to germs and stuff.”