LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Clearly frustrated over continued public defiance in parts of the state -- most notably Orange County -- Gov. Gavin Newsom today ordered all residents to wear face coverings in almost all settings outside their homes to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered, putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease," Newsom said in a statement announcing the order. "California's strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations. That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.''
The statewide mandate requires residents to wear masks in "high-risk situations," which cover virtually all scenarios outside the home. It specifically requires them:
- inside or in line to enter any indoor public space;
- while obtaining health services at locations including a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic or blood bank;
- while waiting for or riding on public transportation or paratransit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle;
- in the workplace while interacting with people or in areas where food is being prepared, in common areas such as hallways and elevators and parking structures; and
- in outdoor public spaces when it is not feasible to maintain six feet of distance from people outside your own household.
"Science shows that face coverings and masks work,'' Newsom said. "They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy."
The issue of face coverings has become an increasingly political debate, most notably in Orange County, where the chief health officer was effectively run out of her job because she issued an order mandating that residents wear masks. Opponents blasted the order as an infringement on personal freedom and an attack on the local economy, saying it stoked fears that will kept people from visiting businesses.
The county appointed a new health officer, and a new order was issued that strongly recommends the face coverings, rather than mandate them.
The state order will now override that county regulation.
Health officials across the state and nation have said COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets that people can emit while talking or simply breathing, potentially infecting others around them. Wearing a face covering is touted as an effective way to prevent such droplets from infecting others. The mask, officials say, does not necessarily protect the wearer from being infected, but it prevents the wearer from spreading the illness to others.
The mandate comes on the heels of record-high numbers of new cases being reported across the state. Los Angeles County alone reported more than 2,000 new cases on Wednesday, although health officials say key indicators such as hospitalization and transmission rates have remained steady, and death rates are decreasing.
Case numbers have also been rising in Orange County -- the epicenter of the mask debate -- with 33 deaths reported this week so far.
Health officials statewide have said they anticipated growing numbers of cases as more businesses are allowed to reopen and more people are out of their homes. They consistently cite hospitalization and death rates as key indicators of whether cases are surging and threaten the hospital system's ability to respond.
"As Californians venture into our communities more, wearing face coverings is another important way we can help protect one another," state public health director Dr. Sonia Angell said in a statement. "Combined with physical distancing and frequent hand-washing, wearing cloth face coverings when we are with others outside of our household will reduce the spread of COVID-19, which is still a very real threat across our state."
The statewide mandate includes exemptions for children under age 2, people with medical or other disabilities that prevent the wearing of a mask, people eating in a restaurant while socially distanced and people working outdoors or engaged in outdoor recreation while alone or with members of their own households.