Marin makes face coverings mandatory
Author: Adrian Rodriguez
Publication: Marin IJ
Marin County is joining a regional public health effort in requiring that residents wear face coverings in situations where the coronavirus could spread.
Uniting with San Francisco and Contra Costa County, county public health officials issued the order Friday mandating face coverings, such as a mask or bandana, in public for those over the age 12 starting at noon Wednesday.
The new order comes just days after Marin public health officials indicated that stay-at-home orders will extend beyond May 3 with some restrictions lifted. Dr. Matt Willis said the mask requirement is meant to complement the shelter rules.
“We see it as potentially enabling other changes to some of the more strict elements to the shelter-in-place order,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are far from being out of the woods and people should not be falsely reassured by the success we have had so far. The virus is still with us.”
County officials plan to make announcements to changes to the shelter order within two weeks. The requirement to wear a face-covering has no expiration date, Willis said.
“I think we did really manage people’s expectations that we will start rolling back restrictions slowly and safely,” he said. “No one is talking about simply lifting the order completely (on May 3). That would be disastrous.”
The new order states that everyone over the age of 12 is required to wear a face covering when inside public spaces or waiting in line to enter public spaces; seeking health care; waiting for or while on mass transit; in common areas of buildings, such as elevators and hallways; workers at businesses where the public is present or likely to be present.
Food handlers and drivers and operators of public transit are also required to wear coverings. Employers may also refuse admission or services to customers who are in violation of the order, Willis said.
Residents exercising outdoors are not required to wear a mask, but Willis cautioned those people should carry one just in case.
The “shelter in place” order, which Marin County enacted March 17 in coordination with several Bay Area jurisdictions, was initially announced as a three-week mandate before it was extended through May 3. The sweeping restrictions on everyday life, which have thrown many businesses and people into economic turmoil, have been successful in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, Willis said.
This is one step toward reopening the region. Because of asymptomatic carriers of the virus, which has an incubation period of 2-14 days, symptoms alone aren’t enough to identify everybody who is contagious. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as local health officials, have said any facial covering is enough to prevent the spread of the droplets that carry the virus.
Until Friday, only two jurisdictions in the Bay Area had gone so far as to make it an order. Sonoma County on Monday announced a similar order that took effect Friday. On Thursday, the city of Fremont began requiring customers and employees inside any essential business to cover their faces.
None of the local orders requires medical-grade masks, such as surgical or N95 masks.
“A simple facial covering with cloth will effectively reduce the spreading of droplets in the environment, which is the main way COVID-19 is spread,” said Willis, who himself has been infected by the virus and recovered.
He said the order “amplifies the existing recommendation” from all local officials and the CDC.
The Golden Gate Bridge district, which operates the Golden Gate Ferry and Golden Gate Transit announced Friday that passengers will be expected to wear face coverings.
Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, district spokesman, said transit and ferry staff may deny boarding passengers who are not in compliance.
“The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority,” he said. “During this public health emergency, we’re asking all of our passengers to follow official public health guidance and wear masks while taking transit and out in public. Wearing a mask on the bus and ferry is the right thing to do …”
Marin County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brenton Schneider said law enforcement agencies will take a similar approach to this new order as it did when the stay-at-home rule went into effect March 17. He said the sheriff’s office will continue to educate the public through press releases and social media.
“We will be looking to educate the public and seek voluntary compliance,” he said. “If we do not get voluntary compliance, violation of or failure to comply with the order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.”
Violators could face fines ranging from $50 to $1,000, Schneider said.
More information is at MarinHHS.org/coronavirus.
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