A masked waiter takes orders from diners during the coronavirus pandemic. | Lynne Sladky/AP Photo
OAKLAND — California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday he will require masks in most public settings statewide in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19 as new cases rise by thousands daily in the state.
The California Department of Public Health released updated guidance Thursday that requires Californians to wear a face covering in most indoor settings, as well as outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible. Any workers who engage with the public will be required to wear a mask. So will riders of public transit and anyone visiting a health-related office.
“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Newsom said in a statement released Thursday. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.”
California, with nearly 40 million residents, becomes the most populous state in the nation to require face coverings. It is the 11th state and first on the West Coast to mandate masks beyond essential workers, according to the National Governors Association.
Mask requirements have become politicized nationwide and in California, most notably in Orange County where Public Health Officer Nichole Quick resigned in the face of personal threats after she issued face-covering requirements. Some business owners have been asking for state and local mandates on masks that they can cite rather than having to self-impose rules and face customer outrage.
The guidance includes exemptions for children younger than 2; people with a medical disability that precludes mask-wearing and hearing-impaired people. It also exempts people from wearing masks inside restaurants if they can socially distance by at least 6 feet, as well as those engaging in outdoor work or recreation as long as they can maintain distance. Inmates are also exempted from the order.
California’s requirement comes after Newsom has lifted statewide bans on most sectors, from movie theaters to bars. It also comes a day before nail salons and massage parlors are due to open in most counties.
While the state has lifted bans on numerous industries, counties can impose stricter guidelines, as several in the San Francisco Bay Area have done.
The order comes as California experiences a rise in Covid cases, above and beyond those associated with the state’s increase in testing. CDPH reported an increase in new cases of 3,439 as of Wednesday, which is among the highest reported since the beginning of pandemic. The state also noted an uptick in hospitalizations as well as in intensive care.
The state public health department said that a growing body of scientific research “has shown that people with no or few symptoms of COVID-19 can still spread the disease and that the use of face coverings, combined with physical distancing and frequent hand washing, will reduce the spread of COVID-19,” according to a statement from Newsom’s office.
Newsom, explaining why the order came now, said that, “simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered — putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease. 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.”