In a move that is sure to anger the Trump supporters and other anti-mask, anti-lockdown activists in many corners of the state, Governor Gavin Newsom has just issued a statewide order requiring all residents to wear face coverings in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Cities like San Francisco have had similar orders in place for weeks, but now Newsom has stepped in to try to level the pandemic playing field as a handful of California counties are seeing rising numbers of confirmed cases. Those rising numbers, which are arriving as businesses of all kinds have reopened, don't bode well as we face down a potential second wave of the coronavirus — which in the case of some counties and more rural states elsewhere in the U.S. is more like a first wave, because infections had not arrived there in large numbers when they did in major cities in March.
"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 Thursday. "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."
The only people exempt from Newsom's order are children ages 2 and under, people with a physical or mental health condition that prevents wearing a face covering, and people communicating with someone who is hearing impaired.
It remains unclear how Newsom plans to enforce the order, particularly in counties where sheriffs and other officials have already been bristling at extended lockdown orders — case in point, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, who several weeks ago declared he would not be helping to enforce the county health officer's orders to keep certain businesses closed.
The order seems directed in particular at places like Orange County, where a mandatory mask order was rescinded last week. (DOES NO ONE READ THEIR HISTORY?) As the Los Angeles Times reports, the recently resigned health officer had made masks mandatory, only to receive death threats from the public and pushback from the board of supervisors. Her replacement made masks simply "recommended."
It's become pretty abundantly clear that Americans are fatigued with pandemic lockdowns and mask-wearing, and in New York City, where the reopening process remains in Phase 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo has already reacted badly to a photo of people congregating outside of a Manhattan bar where to-go drinks were being sold. Like SF, New York is going to allow restaurants to install outdoor seating where they didn't have it before as the city enters Phase 2 on Monday.
But a recent study out of Germany suggests that having everyone wearing masks reduces the daily growth rate of infections by 40 percent. And California is now the 11th state in the country to institute mandatory mask rules — all while states that have had more lax lockdowns, like Florida and Arizona, have seen rapid rises in case numbers. This week, the Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, gave individuals mayors the authority to make mask-wearing mandatory, as the New York Times notes.