Riverside County officials are warning residents that they can face stiff consequences for flouting an order that everyone must wear a mask or face covering when leaving their home amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is a valid order and enforceable by fine, imprisonment, or both,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a video message Monday.
Amid a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases, including the deaths of two sheriff’s deputies from the virus, the county on Saturday expanded on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order with a requirement that people must cover their face when venturing out.
“While more and more Riverside County residents are getting COVID-19, not everybody’s getting the message,” county Public Health Director Dr. Cameron Kaiser said in a statement Saturday. “It started with staying home, social distance and covering your face. But now we change from saying that you should to saying that you must.”
The move aims to prevent asymptomatic people from spreading the virus unwittingly. Most citizens should use non-medical-grade coverings like bandanas, scarves or something homemade; N95 respirators and surgical masks should be reserved for health care workers.
The order remains in effect through April 30.
Bianco emphasized that residents “will not be stopped and ticketed simply because you’re not wearing a mask.” Deputies won’t be stopping vehicles or setting up checkpoints, and people won’t be stopped when out walking, running or hiking, he said.
Instead, Bianco pleaded for citizens’ cooperation and voluntary compliance: “If we must respond to violations of this order, our ability to respond to emergencies and critical calls for service will be greatly impacted.”
The sheriff also asked people not to call 911 to report potential violations.
“While this order does have potential criminal and civil consequences, that is the last thing I want to happen while we deal with this crisis,” he said.
Bianco said residents can avoid consequences by practicing “good, old-fashioned common sense” — cover your face, stay at home unless absolutely necessary, and help neighbors as much as possible.
“The next two or three weeks are going to be very trying times for your first responders and our medical personnel,” he said.
As of Monday, nearly 950 cases had been confirmed in the county. A total of 25 people had died from the disease, while another 60 had fully recovered.
On Sunday, authorities released information on what they believe to be the county’s largest outbreak site, a cluster of 30 cases among residents and staff at a nursing home in Riverside.