Ventura Co. health officer says he won’t issue countywide mask order

Local news

Ventura County’s health officer said Wednesday that he won’t issue a countywide order mandating the use of cloth masks, unlike several other Southern California communities.

“As a doctor I help my patient make choices, as the health officer, my patient is the county, so I have to look at this from a whole different perspective,” Dr. Robert Levin said during a news briefing. “I could not find that it was appropriate for me to recommend countywide that people wear cloth masks.”

Levin said that a nurse in the public health department who conducted an informal study of mask wearing habits among residents found that many who are wearing masks are using medical grade ones that should be reserved for those who work in health care.

“This is precisely the problem with mask wearing, people are taking masks away from people who need them,” the doctor explained.

He added that the choice to wear masks is up to each individual, but that choice should not include wearing N95 masks, which are in short supply.

Levin laid out his reasoning here.

Officials in other nearby counties have issued mask mandates, and on Wednesday, Riverside County extended its social distancing and mask requirements through June 19.

Instead, he said it’s important that local grocery stores and other essential businesses install plexiglass shields to act as a barrier between the cashiers and customers.

As of Wednesday, Ventura County had 517 total cases of COVID-19, while the death toll remained at 17.

Nearly 10,000 people have been tested in the county, and officials are working to further increase capacity in the coming weeks.

Additionally, epidemiologists at the county’s public health department will be revamping the way they notify and monitor those who came into contact with residents who test positive, including keeping in touch with patients using technology.

Both factors, along with making sure local hospitals are prepared for a possible surge in coronavirus cases, are steps outlined in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reopen the state.

County CEO Mike Powers said he will follow the governor’s directive toward reopening, but wants to make sure officials are “ready to hit the ground running” as restrictions are lifted.

He said it is important to meet benchmarks issued by the state.

“Protecting the health of community is also going to support our local economy. The goals are aligned,” Powers stressed.

Officials in Ventura County have already eased restrictions on parks and beaches, encouraging residents to exercise outdoors.

Additionally, marriage licenses will start to be reissued again starting May 4, the Ventura County Clerk-Recorder said Wednesday. Services were suspended after the Ventura County Government Center was closed to the public on March 18.

A day after Newsom said the next school year may start earlier following statewide closures, the Ventura County Office of Education said it will be working closely with local districts and health officials to figure out plans for a future reopening.

Rick Rutherford, who heads the emergency departments at Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula, said Wednesday he was concerned over a dip in the total number of patients seeking emergency care amid the pandemic.

While he understands that residents might be worried about being exposed to COVID-19 while visiting a hospital, it is important that people seek emergency care before conditions worsen.

Rutherford explained that those hospitalized with the virus are isolated, health care workers are properly protected and patients will be cared for.

“We will keep you safe from the minute you set foot on property until you are safely back home,” he said.

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