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Californians must mask up outside their homes under new expanded mandate

Karen Alvarez and her daughter, Mercedez Gomez, wait in line at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.
Karen Alvarez and her 3-year-old daughter, Mercedez Gomez, wait in line at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX before their flight to Nicaragua on Monday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Faced with a startling spike in coronavirus cases, California health officials issued a new mandate this week requiring residents to wear face coverings whenever they’re outside their homes, with few exceptions.

The expanded order announced Monday means Californians must mask up unless they are alone in a car or only with those in their household; working alone in an office or room; outdoors and staying at least six feet away from others not in their household; are obtaining a service involving their nose or face; or are actively eating or drinking, so long as they maintain physical distance.

Health officials are taking a new tack in the COVID-19 fight by emphasizing research that finds a mask protects the person who wears it, not just those nearby.

The new mandate exempts those younger than 2; have a disability or medical/mental health condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering; are hearing impaired, or are communicating with someone who is.

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Also exempt are those “for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines,” according to the California Department of Public Health.

The latest face-covering rules replace the state’s earlier mask mandate, which had been on the books since June.

That previous order required Californians to wear face coverings in specified settings considered to be high risk — such as when shopping, taking public transit or seeking medical care.

It remains to be seen how, or whether, the new guidance will be enforced. Following the state’s initial order, some cities threatened to cite or fine face-covering scofflaws, but many law enforcement agencies said they would instead focus on educating those not wearing masks.

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Officials have long maintained that wearing some kind of covering over the nose and mouth can help stem the spread of the coronavirus by reducing transmission of infectious respiratory particles.

Though not a silver bullet, experts emphasize that simple actions such as wearing masks, keeping physical distance from those outside your home, regularly washing your hands and staying home when you’re sick all boost your chances of keeping the virus at bay.

Those personal choices are all the more important now, as California contends with a surge in infections that’s steeper than the state has ever seen.

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The state recorded 13,412 new cases Monday — a single-day record, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker.

Weekly coronavirus infections across California are now almost 150% worse than a month ago, rising from about 22,600 in a week to 56,000 for the seven-day period that ended Sunday, according to a Times analysis.

“This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a briefing Monday.

A significant number of new cases tends to lead, often weeks later, to a corresponding increase in hospitalizations. As of the latest tally, there were 3,852 COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide — up roughly 48% from two weeks ago.

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Along with the new mask guidance, officials this week announced a dramatic rollback of reopening in much of the state. As a result of the changes, 94% of Californians now live in counties that are in the strictest tier of the state’s reopening roadmap, and many businesses in those counties will have to suspend or severely limit their indoor operations.

Along with renewed restrictions on businesses, state officials are also urging residents to remain vigilant — especially with the holidays right around the corner.

“We know when people gather with people they don’t live with, often our close friends, even family members, we think that it’s OK to put your guard down. We think it’s OK to take off your mask even for a little bit to enjoy a drink or enjoy a meal,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services secretary. “But it’s exactly those moments that might create a high transmission risk. So we urge you to consider how you engage with friends and family over the weeks to come to keep transmission rates low.”

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Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Iris Lee contributed to this report.


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