Newsom says face coverings can help, but California won’t mandate now

A shopper walks past a storefront mural depicting actor James Dean in Los Angeles on March 31.
A shopper walks past a storefront mural depicting actor James Dean in Los Angeles on March 31.
(Associated Press )

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that face coverings are beneficial for trips to grocery stores, but his administration has stopped short of telling Californians to wear them outside.

“We believe and we put out guidelines that if individuals want to have face coverings, that is a good thing and a preferable thing, in addition to the physical distancing and the stay-at-home order,” Newsom said. “We have been very clear that if you are going into an environment where physical distancing is all but impossible, for example, into a grocery store with small aisles and a long queue, that we do believe it would be additive and beneficial to have a face covering.”

Newsom discussed face coverings after the California Department of Public Health released guidance that read more like a list of pros and cons than a clear directive to help people protect themselves.


State health officials said cloth face coverings could remind other people to keep their distance and reduce spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers. But the officials added that face coverings could also increase risk if people wear them at the expense of physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

“Face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing or frequent hand washing, which we know are among the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health and state health officer.

Newsom said he’s concerned about mandating face coverings because he wants N-95 masks, surgical masks and other protective gear in short supply to go to healthcare workers.

Meanwhile, local officials in areas inundated with the virus have gone a step further than the state and advised residents to cover their faces.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday told residents to continue to stay home and to wear homemade, non-medical face coverings — or even bandannas — when they go outdoors to complete essential tasks. Riverside County health officials on Tuesday urged residents to cover their noses and mouths when out in public.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently state that healthy people should not wear masks unless they work in healthcare or are caring for an infected person, but the agency is reviewing those recommendations, according to reports.