Face coverings when in public now the rule, with a few exceptions

by Linda Hubbard on April 18, 2020

San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow has issued a new order requiring members of the public and workers at essential businesses to wear face coverings outside the home for certain activities and in places of business.

While people should follow this mandate immediately, it will not be enforced until 8:00 am, April 22, 2020. It will remain in effect until it is amended or superseded by a new order from the health officer.

Face coverings are not a substitute for staying home, staying 6 feet apart and washing your hands regularly. A covering over mouth and nose is an additional tool in our arsenal of weapons to fight COVID-19.

Review the full text of the legally binding health order here.

“The purpose is to protect you and to protect others,” Menlo Park Mayor Cecilia Taylor said.  “We need our community members to work together and protect each other. Please take this as a safety measure to protect you, your family and our essential service workers. Our City’s health and wellness depends on our collective action”

Selecting and caring for your mask
Your mask should be made from cloth, fabric, or other soft material and cover the lower part of your face, specifically your nose and mouth. Simple do-it-yourself face coverings are fine. Scarves, bandannas, neck gaiters, homemade coverings made from T-shirt material or other fabric and held with rubber bands are appropriate. Purchased masks may also be used but should not be medical grade, such as N95 respirators, which are in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created tutorials on how to make a mask at home:

Step-by-step instructions for sew and no-sew masks
Video demonstration: make a no-sew a mask from a T-shirt

Your mask should be comfortable and allow you to breathe normally through your nose. Make sure it fits well – you should avoid touching your face or adjusting your mask once you’ve put it on. Wash face coverings after each use.

When you’re required to wear a mask
The order requires members of the public to wear face coverings when they are inside or in line to enter essential businesses such as grocery stores and laundromats, when they are in hospitals, clinics, COVID-19 testing locations, dentists and facilities providing veterinary care, and when they are waiting for or riding on public transportation, taxis, paratransit, ride shares, Caltrain and BART.

The order requires drivers or operators of any public transportation, private car service, or ridesharing vehicle, to wear a face covering while driving regardless of whether a member of the public is present due to the need to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets in the vehicle at all times.

The order does not require a face covering while driving alone or with members of the same family or household in a vehicle not used commercially.

Workers at essential businesses
For businesses, the order requires employees, contractors, owners and volunteers to wear a face covering in the workplace and off-site when they are interacting in person with the public or working in any public space, like a reception area, restroom or service counter—regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time.

Face coverings are also required where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution, working in or walking through common areas such as hallways, stairways, elevators and parking facilities, and in any room or enclosed area when other people, including co-workers, are present (except for members of the person’s own household or residence).

The order offers some points of clarity: A face covering is not required in a personal office (a single room) when others outside of that person’s household are not present as long as the public does not regularly visit the room.

While exercising or outside
You’re not required wear a mask while exercising outdoors, but you should carry one with you and put it on when it is not possible to stay 6 feet apart from others, such as when passing on a narrow path. Examples include bike and pedestrian bridges.

It is recommended, but not required, for walking, hiking, bicycling or running. Runners and cyclists should avoid being directly in front of or behind another runner or cyclist who is not in the same household as running and bicycling causes people to expel airborne particles more forcefully, which makes the usual minimum 6 feet distance less adequate.

Social distancing requirements—including maintaining at least 6 feet of separation from all other people to the greatest extent possible—still hold.

For children
Face coverings are optional for children 3-12 years old. Children 2 years or younger should not wear masks, as they may create a risk of suffocation. Parents and caregivers must supervise use of face coverings by children to avoid misuse.

Exceptions to the order
With exceptions for medical conditions and workplace safety guidelines, the order notes that failure to comply with any of its provisions constitutes an imminent threat and immediate menace to public health, constitutes a public nuisance, and is punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.

Some very specific people do not have to wear a face covering:
– Anyone who has trouble breathing, is incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance
– Anyone who is advised by a medical professional not to wear a face covering
– Any worker to the extent wearing a face covering creates a safety hazard at work under established health and safety guidelines

And because we all can use a chuckle

Here’s a DIY face mask tutorial with Kay, which is popular on YouTube.

Second photo shows Flea Street Cafe food workers preparing Easter Sunday dinner – clearly ahead of the curve on wearing face masks!

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