By Phil Willon
Los Angeles Times
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public or high-risk settings, including when shopping, taking public transit or seeking medical care, following growing concerns that an increase in coronavirus cases has been caused by residents failing to voluntarily take that precaution.
Newsom’s order comes a week after Orange County rescinded a requirement for residents to wear masks and as other counties across California are debating whether to join other local jurisdictions in mandating face coverings. The Newsom administration did not address how the new requirement will be enforced or if Californians who violate the order will be subject to citations or other penalties.
“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. “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.”
Until now, state public health officials had only recommended that Californians wear the face coverings which, if worn by someone with the virus, have been shown to decease chances of spreading it to others. The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday first reported that the Newsom administration was considering a statewide face covering requirement.
The state mandate exempts children two years old and under and people with a medical, mental health or developmental disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering. Restaurant customers are also exempt when eating and drinking, as are residents recreating outdoors as long as they are able to socially distance from others.
Face coverings also are not required for the hearing impaired, or those communicating with them, or for workers whose health may be put at risk or may need to temporarily remove a mask to perform a task or service.
Masks must be worn by Californians in their workplace, when serving customers or any member of the public, by all food service workers, when working or walking through hallways and parking facilities and when riding on elevators. People who drive buses, taxis, ride-sharing vehicles or any other service that accepts passengers also must wear masks.
Newsom in mid-March issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, arguing at the time that the restrictions were necessary to slow the spread of the virus. Since that time, the Democratic governor has make it clear that enforcing the order, as well as deciding when to ease the restrictions, is up to counties and cities to decide.
“This is a statewide requirement and flows from the same legal authority as all of the other state orders,” Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for the California Health and Human Services Agency, said of the mask requirement.
State Public Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell said wearing face coverings, along with hand washing and social distancing, is a proven and effective way to decrease the spread of the coronavirus.
“As Californians venture into our communities more, wearing face coverings is another important way we can help protect one another,” she said.
A recent study from Germany found that face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 40%. Another study, published Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that “wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission.”
Some Californians have openly rebelled against directives to wear face coverings, which they consider to be government overreach and an infringement of their personal freedom.
Last week, an Orange County public health official resigned after weeks of attacks, including a death threat, over her mandatory mask rules. Her replacement rescinded the rules amid intense pressure from the Board of Supervisors and now the county only “strongly recommends” wearing masks in public settings.
Fresno, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have also rescinded face covering requirements due to public opposition.
Many of California’s other most populous counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo, require mask wearing in public.
Times staff writers Luke Money, Hannah Fry, Stephanie Lai and Rong Gong Lin II contributed to this report.