San Bernardino County on Tuesday mandated residents cover their faces when leaving home while also ordering all faith-based services be conducted online as officials ramped up attempts to tamp down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The formal orders go into effect at midnight and were issued as the county reported a total of 530 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 16 deaths linked to the virus.
Whenever residents leave home, they must cover their mouth and nose with something that secures to the ears or back of the head, according to a news release from the county. Bandanas and handkerchiefs, neck gaiters and a homemade cloth with ear loop covers were listed as acceptable examples of a face covering.
They do not need to wear them while driving alone with members of their immediate household unless they plan to roll down their window to interact with others, officials clarified Wednesday.
However, people should avoid using N95 and surgical masks, which are in short supply and desperately needed for health care workers and emergency responders.
Similar orders are in place elsewhere in California, including neighboring Riverside County. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people cover their face when leaving home.
Officials continue to remind the public that facial coverings are an additive preventive measure and not a replacement for strict physical distancing and stay-at-home measures.
“Staying home, practicing social distancing and frequent handwashing are far more effective ways to combat the spread of COVID-19, and face coverings are not a substitute for those practices,” said Dr. Erin Gustafson, the county’s acting public health officer.
With holidays like Easter and Passover coming up, San Bernardino County officials also said that religious services may only be held electronically “through streaming or online technology,” according to the release.
Residents were initially told to not leave home for driving parades or drive-in services, but officials later clarified that services already planned for the coming weekend “should proceed with those services if they choose to do so and make every effort to prevent contact between congregants.”
But they can’t go out to pick up pre-packaged Easter eggs, bags filled with candy or toys at a drive-thru location because those items have been deemed nonessential, the release stated.
“We understand that this is an important time for Christians around the world and it is natural to want to worship and celebrate with our families,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagrman said. “Right now, however, is a critical time for our country and our community – we can still celebrate this time from the safety of our individual homes while we help flatten the curve and save lives.”
Home-based worshipping and activities such as Easter egg hunts are encouraged by the county, but should be limited to immediate household members inside a home or in a residential backyard, according to the release.
Those who violate the order could face a fine of up to $1,000 or as many as 90 days imprisonment, or both, officials warned.
But they later said the threat of penalty is more of a deterrent.
“On the subject of enforcement, the public is advised that although violation of a health order is a violation of the California Health and Safety Code, the County does not expect law enforcement to broadly impose citations on violators,” officials said in a news release on Wednesday afternoon. “The expectation is that law enforcement will rely upon community members to use good judgment, common sense, and act in the best interests of their own health and the health of their loved ones and the community at large.”
The full order can be viewed here.