San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow is now explicitly requiring residents and essential employees to wear face coverings when out in the public, taking a major step further from the county's April 2 announcement where masks were only a recommendation.
The new order takes effect Friday at 11:59 p.m., according to the press release, but won't be enforced until this Wednesday, April 22, at 8 a.m. The order advises against wearing N95 and medical-grade masks, which are in short supply.
Violators of the health order can be charged with a misdemeanor under California Health and Safety Code section 120195, which states anyone who disobeys the order of a health officer can be subject to a fine of no less than $50 and no more than $1,000; imprisonment of up to 90 days; or both.
Under the new guidelines, residents outside of their homes and inside an essential business, including grocery stores, hospitals and even ride-sharing vehicles, are required to wear some form of face covering that protects the nose, mouth and other areas of the lower face.
However, residents are not strictly required, but recommended to wear a mask when engaging in outdoor activities such as "walking, hiking, bicycling or running" while also keeping a 6-feet distance.
Employees at essential businesses are also required to wear face masks. This includes anyone working in the food sector — from restaurant cooks to grocery store clerks — and bus drivers and drivers of ride-sharing services, regardless of whether anyone else is present inside the vehicle.
The only exception for employees is if they're working in a private space less frequented by members of the public or coworkers.
Children ages 12 or younger are exempt from the requirement, and those ages 2 or younger should not wear a mask due to the risk of suffocation.
San Mateo County is among the Bay Area counties that have updated their guidance on face coverings. Sonoma County's order that went into effect Friday requires health care workers to wear masks in all medical facilities and group homes, among other facilities that provide care. People who enter patient care facilities must wear medical-grade masks, but residents or patients in those facilities are exempt from the order.
Also on Friday, Alameda and Contra Costa counties each issued orders on face coverings that will be enforced starting Wednesday.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department also issued a statement Friday evening on face masks, but with slight changes compared to its April 2 statement, shying from "recommending" to "strongly urging" people to wear masks.
This is a "critical recommendation," Dr. Sara Cody said in a YouTube video published Friday evening. The new guidance comes as more research emerges on COVID-19.
The virus is much more insidious than previously understood. Those infected with the coronavirus can show no symptoms of COVID-19, and people with the virus can transmit it for up to 48 hours before showing any symptoms at all, Dr. Cody said.
"What that means is that we've got a lot of spread happening unnoticed," she said. "We urge the public, we really urge everyone, to wear a face covering."
For detailed information on face masks, including a step-by-step tutorial on how to make them, visit cdc.gov.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.