Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians Thursday to wear face coverings while in public or in high-risk settings after the state recorded a single-day high in coronavirus cases.
Face coverings are now mandated for residents while at work, on public transportation, in taxis and ride-sharing cars, and inside or in lines to enter all public spaces — including hospitals and pharmacies.
“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 said in a written statement. “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 new order comes a week after Orange County lifted its face mask requirement, with local officials saying they wanted to be “more consistent with the state.” Last month, Riverside County also went from mandating face coverings to “strongly recommending” them after stiff opposition from residents.
Previously, the state had only recommended wearing the face coverings, but counties — including densely-populated Los Angeles County — have required the masks for those visiting or working in public spaces and interacting with others.
Several studies have shown that face coverings can help curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially since people with no COVID-19 symptoms can still spread the virus. Public health officials across the state have repeatedly emphasized the importance of wearing masks as more spaces reopen.
A review funded by the World Health Organization found across 16 countries that face mask use could result in a “large reduction in risk of infection,” adding that N95 and similar respirators were more successful than disposable surgical masks or reusable cotton masks — which are still recommended as supplies of medical-grade masks remain limited.
“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Newsom said. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.”
The mask requirement is enforceable as a misdemeanor “if necessary,” and violations could result in fines or other penalties, according to Ali Bay, a spokesperson for the state public health department.
“For example, state agencies like (the Division of Occupational Safety and Health) may take action,” she wrote in an email. “Any potential enforcement action and penalties would depend on the circumstances.”
Some people are exempt from the new mask orders, including children aged 2 and under, those who are hard of hearing or need to communicate with those who are, as well as people who have medical, mental health or developmental disabilities that prevent them from wearing face coverings. Inmates are also exempt from the order.
People dining at restaurants and cafes don’t have to wear face coverings while they’re eating, provided that they can keep at least 6 feet away from others, state officials said.
Masks are also not required while exercising outdoors, and that includes while swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling or running.
As the state continues to loosen restrictions and allow more businesses and public spaces to reopen, California still reports hundreds of coronavirus cases each day, the majority in L.A. County. So far, 164,840 infections were confirmed in California and 5,307 people have died of COVID-19, according to a Los Angeles Times tally.
“As Californians venture into our communities more, wearing face coverings is another important way we can help protect one another,” Dr. Sonia Angell, the state’s public health director, said. “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.”
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said Thursday the county is reviewing the state’s mask mandate.
The county had rescinded its mask order just days after its health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, abruptly resigned following threats over her order for people to wear masks.
On Tuesday, a crowd of protesters and counter-protestors gathered outside the county administration building, clashing over the county’s relaxed mask rules.
Additionally, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Thursday that he has no plans to enforce the statewide mandate.
“It is each person’s responsibility to wear a face covering … in order to stop the spread of COVID-19; it is not law enforcement’s responsibility to enforce it,” Barnes said in a statement. “I expect that Orange County residents will continue to use common sense approaches for the benefit of their own health, as well as the collective health of other county residents. We must do what is necessary to stop the transmission of COVID-19, enabling us to further open remaining businesses, places of recreation, and the hospitality industry.”