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Orange County recommends masks as coronavirus protection but stops short of mandate

Jose Secundino, foreground, joins Second Harvest Food Bank employees as they pack boxes of food for the needy.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As the number of coronavirus cases in Orange County continues to grow, public health officials on Thursday issued a recommendation “strongly encouraging” employees at businesses open during the pandemic to wear face coverings while at work.

The new guidance, which is in line with recent recommendations by state and national health officials, is intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by those who are infected with the virus, but are not yet showing symptoms, said county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick.

“Face coverings are an additional tool that may help protect staff and patrons from COVID-19, but they are not a substitute for proven protective measures like frequent hand washing, keeping your hands away from your face, practicing social distancing and staying home,” Quick said in a prepared statement.

The county previously suggested that residents wear some type of face covering while in public, but officials continue to urge residents to refrain from purchasing N95 and surgical masks, which are in short supply among healthcare workers.

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The county’s recommendation comes a day after public health officials announced one of the region’s largest single-day increases in confirmed coronavirus cases. The 91 COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday were the second most in one day in the county since the pandemic began, data show.

On Thursday, the Orange County Health Care Agency announced 67 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the countywide total to 1,079. No additional deaths from the virus were reported, leaving the county’s toll at 17.

Officials also reported that 127 people are currently hospitalized for the virus and of those, 63 people are in intensive care. So far, more than 12,000 people countywide have been tested for the virus.

A once bustling and vibrant city has been replaced by closed buildings, lonely streets and sure emptiness. It’s eerie, it’s empty, it’s surreal.

The recommendation on face coverings stopped short of an official order requiring the masks for workers and the public, similar to orders put in place in other parts of Southern California in the past several days.

Quick said she opted not to issue such an order based on the number of infections countywide.

“I’m hopeful we’re seeing a flattening of the curve in Orange County,” she said. However, she added that there “may be a time in the near future that a mandate may be more appropriate.”

In Los Angeles, effective Friday, all residents will be required to wear a mask, bandanna or other type of covering over their noses and mouths when in grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, coin-operated laundry services, restaurants, hotels, taxis, ride-hail vehicles and several other essential businesses.

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The city’s order also mandates that workers at most essential businesses wear face coverings, which business owners must either provide or reimburse workers for buying. If a business refuses to provide face coverings for its workers, it could be fined, but the hope is that businesses and customers will follow the order without issue, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

San Diego County also requires employees who regularly interact with the public to wear face coverings.

Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do pushed earlier this week for the county to require workers who interact with the public — including those at pharmacies, grocery stores and restaurants and other businesses that serve food — to cover their faces while on the job.

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“We are in a phase in the crisis where community transmission is the main mode of transmission now,” he said Tuesday. “We are way beyond containment at this point … and this would definitely be a mitigating measure because of how important food service is in our life.”

Some of his board colleagues, however, said those in the medical field — such as Quick — should instead make the call.


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