Californians Now Required to Wear Face Masks in Public

California Gov. Gavin Newsom takes off his face mask before a June 1 news conference. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered the state’s 40 million residents to wear masks and face coverings when shopping, riding public transit and in other public settings.

The announcement comes as coronavirus cases continue to spike in the nation’s largest state, with Newsom saying mandatory masks are needed to protect the “real progress” California made during the months long statewide shutdown.

“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Newsom said in a statement. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.”

According to Newsom and the state’s top public health officials, masks are required for employees working inside, regardless of whether the public is around and in outdoor situations when maintaining six feet of distance isn’t possible.

Californians must also wear cloth masks when waiting in lines, visiting health care facilities and pharmacies, and while using public transit or ride-share services.

Newsom defended the timing of the statewide edict, issued weeks after counties have already reopened, by saying he has seen “too many people” without masks in public.

“Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered — putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease,” Newsom added. “California’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations. That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”

The rules exempt children under 2, people with medical or mental health disabilities that prevents the use of masks, as well as people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

In addition, those incarcerated are exempt, but the order notes prisons and jails are working on plans for masks for inmates and staff.

The guidance released by the California Department of Public Health doesn’t mention specific penalties, but a department spokesperson told Courthouse News the mask order is “enforceable if necessary as a misdemeanor” and could carry a “financial penalty.” The spokesperson added state agencies, such as the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, could also take action.

Dr. Sonia Angell, state public health officer, noted recent studies showing people with no or few symptoms can still spread Covid-19 and said masks play a critical role in stopping the disease as California continues to reopen.

“Combined with physical distancing and frequent hand washing, wearing cloth face coverings when we are with others outside of our household will reduce the spread of Covid-19, which is still a very real threat across our state,” Angell said in a statement.

Up until Thursday there had been a wide range of mask requirements across the state’s 58 counties.

Some of the state’s largest counties have required masks in public, such as Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, while others like Santa Clara and Orange have issued recommendations. 

On March 19, California became the first to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, then began allowing counties to reopen in phases over the last month. Newsom has reiterated it was up to individual health officials and counties to determine when they can reopen their economies safely.

Though the statewide order has largely been credited with preventing a spike seen in places like New York City, the virus remains potent in the Golden State. On Wednesday the state reported a daily record of 4,165 cases.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, California has the third most confirmed cases of any state with 163,000, registering 414 per 100,000 people. Nationwide, Los Angeles County has confirmed 77,000 cases, second to Cook County.

While the total cases are alarming, Newsom has repeatedly pointed to the stabilization of deaths and hospitalizations as reasons to relax the mandatory stay-at-home order. After withstanding the initial rush of cases in late March and April, Newsom says the state has been able to stockpile medical equipment and that hospitals have continued to add beds and staff for a potential spike in cases.

Nearly all 58 counties in the Golden State have reopened multiple sectors of their economy despite many seeing increases in infections and hospitalizations.

“The last few weeks have been challenging,” Newsom said earlier this week of the increased cases. “Our focus remains very, very direct at addressing the issue of the spread of Covid-19.”

The California Medical Association applauded Newsom’s mask order Thursday, calling it a reminder that the pandemic is far from over. It said the mandate would provide relief to counties grappling with whether to issue mask requirements.

“We hope this order will offer some support and protection for local public health officers who have been placed in untenable situations in counties across California, coming under attack for only trying to do what science tells us is necessary to protect public health,” said association president Peter Bretan.

“The job these public servants perform is critical to the well-being of communities across California, and we must continue to stand up to those who reject science and try to bully or harass local health officers for their own cynical political ends.”

Democratic lawmakers agreed it was time for mandatory masks in public.

“Even people who think they are safe from infection should wear face coverings as a common courtesy to protect those around them,” state Senator Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, said. “The virus is often spread by people without symptoms who don’t know they are infected.” 

As Newsom’s directive was released, public health officials in Los Angeles County issued new rules Thursday allowing more businesses to reopen once they’ve complied with social distancing and infection control guidelines.

Bars, nail salons, wineries and tattoo parlors in LA County are among the businesses that can begin reopening as soon as Friday, as long as they require face coverings for visitors and implement safety protocols before reopening their doors, according to a county health officer directive.

Massage therapy and skin care businesses, cardrooms, and racetracks with no spectators may also begin reopening Friday under the new county health guidelines.

LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday businesses and customers should continue to treat Covid-19 as a deadly, easily transmittable virus.

“As more sectors reopen, we risk losing all the progress we have made in slowing the spread, if we don’t take every precaution possible to prevent exposing others and ourselves to the virus,” Ferrer said in a statement.

In Alameda County, officials announced that retail stores, outdoor dining, limited religious services and malls can reopen starting Friday.

County interim health officer Erica Pan released guidance on Thursday for reopening, including a 50% capacity limit for retail shops and fewer than 100 people for religious services.

According to latest official numbers, Alameda County has recently had the highest total in coronavirus infections among Bay Area counties.

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