Riverside County recommends residents cover their faces when leaving home, but not with N95 masks

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A family walks wearing masks in downtown Los Angeles on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

A family walks wearing masks in downtown Los Angeles on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

Riverside County health officials on Tuesday recommended that residents use something to cover their nose and mouth when leaving home to perform necessary errands or go to the doctor, but are telling people not to buy hospital grade masks.

Bandanas and homemade fabric masks were cited as two examples of acceptable items to use as face coverings, according to a news release from Riverside University Health Systems. The advantage of both is they can be washed and worn again.

However, people should not go out and purchase critical N95 and surgical masks, which are desperately needed by health care workers.

This is the first time local officials have made such a large-scale recommendation regarding masks.

“When the situation changes, the rulebook changes,” Riverside County Public Health Office Dr. Cameron Kaiser said in the release. “We’re seeing our numbers increasing even sooner than we predicted and that means our strategy must change too.”

The county has seen 371 confirmed cases of COVID-19, leaving 13 people dead, according to the latest figures posted to the health department’s website on Tuesday afternoon. At least 30 people have recovered.

Experts believing that novel coronavirus is primarily transmitted through the droplets of an infected individual — something that happens when they cough or sneeze, for instance — and that fabrics can filter them out.

“This not only helps to reduce the risk a well person can breathe those droplets in, but also protects others around someone with mild symptoms who may not yet realize they have the illness,” the agency’s release stated.

As a result, residents should strive to wear some type of face covering anytime they leave their homes to perform essential tasks, like going to the supermarket or visiting the pharmacy.

Even with masks, people will still need to continue the practice of physical distancing and staying home when possible. Frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer are also still being advised.

“It’s an extra layer of protection that I think we need to add,” Kaiser said of the face coverings.

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during his daily coronavirus briefing that California would look into whether all residents should be encouraged to wear masks when they leave the home. A decision on recommendation and guidelines could come by Wednesday.

And the issue is also being weighed at the federal level, with President Trump saying Monday that the White House task force “will take a look at it.”

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend those who are infected wear masks to stop droplets from spreading, but the two organizations do not currently recommend healthy people wear masks.

That guidance has come into question in recent days, and the director of the CDC said the agency was reviewing its advice.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told CNN Tuesday that “the idea of getting a much more broad communitywide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the Task Force. The CDC group is looking at that very carefully.”

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