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Health authorities want people to wear masks or face coverings outdoors to help prevent spread of the coronavirus, but is it a hard and fast rule? It depends. Here are things to know:

Why wear a mask?

Health experts say face coverings help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cloth coverings cannot block the virus itself. However, they can provide some protection from droplets from breath and saliva that can carry the disease. Some people don’t realize they are infected because they have no symptoms. If they wear a mask, it limits the possibility of them unwittingly spreading the disease.

How is the L.A. mask requirement different?

The city of Los Angeles has the strictest requirement of any major city in the state. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an order this week saying, “All individuals engaging in outdoor activities, except for water activities, must wear a cloth face covering.”

That includes everything from walking around the block to skateboarding. The order exempts children under 2 and people with certain disabilities.

Even in surrounding Los Angeles County, it’s a little less stringent. The county’s health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer says masks aren’t needed for solitary walks or jogs, “but you now need to have face covering with you” in case you come in close contact with others or need to go into a business.

Everyone is asked to wear a face covering when they are interacting with others who are not members of their household in both public and private spaces. This means wearing one while participating in essential activities, such as grocery shopping, according to the L.A. Department of Public Health’s guidance.

“Masks are in fact mandatory across the entire county when you’re outside of your home, not with members of your household and in any kind of contact with other people,” Ferrer said during a news conference Thursday.

Do I have to wear it in the car?

Garcetti says no. But he emphasized wearing it other places when away from home and applying social distancing are foundational elements to continuing the progress Los Angeles has made against the virus.

About the coronavirus

As of Friday, 1,755 people have died due to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents but more than half the deaths.

Slight decreases in hospitalizations have occurred over the last week and a half and “we are encouraged,” Ferrer said.

For the most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for up to three weeks. The vast majority recover. Some older adults and people with existing health problems can experience severe illness including pneumonia and death.