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Face Covering Is Now the Law

For the safety of everyone, please do your part.



Last Friday, health officers in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties and several of their Bay Area counterparts issued an order generally requiring workers and members of the public to wear face masks when they are out and about in the community.

The orders were sweeping, and applied to most of the cases in which any of us leave our homes during this global health emergency. Specifically, masks are now required in all of the following locations: stores; restaurants; lines; laundromats; shared vehicles; construction sites; hallways, elevators, and other common spaces. And while face masks are not required for outdoor exercise, they are recommended while walking, biking, running, or walking.

But you wouldn't have known that was the case based on informal surveys of East Bay residents over the four days after masks were mandated. Saturday morning on Oakland's Grand Avenue and downtown, 56 of the first 100 people observed out in public were not wearing face masks in compliance with health guidelines. Saturday afternoon in Emeryville and West Oakland, 67 out of 100 people observed were violating the health order. Sunday afternoon by Lake Merritt, 73 out of 100 people surveyed wore no mask. Tuesday morning, 64 out of 100.

People in lines outside grocery stores were not wearing masks.

Workers on job sites were not wearing masks.

Checkers at liquor stores were not wearing masks.

Parents with children were not wearing masks.

Employees entering offices were not wearing masks.

Clusters of people who couldn't have all been family were not wearing masks.

Runners, walkers, and bikers were not wearing masks — despite evidence that people who are exercising leave a potentially contagious plume of droplets for as many as 15 feet behind them.

People at greater risk from the virus — specifically Latinos, the elderly, and African-Americans — were not wearing masks.

Only in Oakland's Chinatown were people taking COVID-19 seriously.

We get it — face masks are annoying. They itch, they fog your glasses, and they remind you how bad your breath is after eating garlic.

But they also limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. And at a time that tens of thousands of valiant doctors, nurses, grocers, garbage collectors, restaurant workers, and first responders are risking their lives for all of us on a daily basis, the least the rest of us can do is put on an annoying, scratchy mask to help keep them safe from a potentially fatal disease.

Although predictions vary widely, many epidemiologists believe that most of us will contract COVID-19. If we heed the precautions that health officials recommend, perhaps we won't get it until 2021, when hospitals are better-equipped to handle everything the virus is throwing at them. But if we are careless, if we ignore the advice of health professionals — if we fail to wear masks after we have been advised to do so — we might get the virus before health care workers have all the tools they need to give us, and themselves, a fighting chance.

Every time you leave your home without putting on a mask, you are risking the lives of everyone you come in contact with.

By law, businesses in the East Bay must refuse admission to any employee or customer who is not wearing a face mask. But that is not happening. East Bay law enforcement officials need to begin issuing citations to businesses that do not comply with this health order. And all of us need to wear our masks, wash our hands, keep a safe distance from others, and remind everyone we come in contact with to do the same.

Failing to do your part is reckless and irresponsible. We can all do better than our president.

Here is the Alameda County Health Officer's order, edited for brevity by the Express:


Please read this Order carefully. Violation of or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California Department of Public Health, and Alameda County Public Health Department have recommended that members of the public, when they need to interact with others outside the home and especially in settings where many people are present such as waiting in lines and shopping, should cover the mouth and nose to prevent inadvertently spreading the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019.

One key transmission method for the virus is respiratory droplets that people expel when they breathe or sneeze. With the virus that causes COVID-19, people can be infected and not have any symptoms but still be contagious. People can also be infected and contagious 48 hours before developing symptoms. Many people with the COVID-19 virus have mild symptoms and do not recognize they are infected and contagious, and they can unintentionally infect others.

And because it is not always possible to maintain at least 6 feet of distance, members of the public and workers should wear face coverings while engaged in most essential activities and other activities when others are nearby. This Order requires that people wear Face Coverings, which may be simple do-it-yourself coverings as further described below, in three main settings.

First, members of the public must wear Face Coverings while inside of or waiting in line to enter Essential Businesses and other businesses or facilities engaged in Minimum Basic Operations, providing Essential Infrastructure, and providing Essential Government Functions ... when seeking healthcare from Healthcare Operations, and when waiting for or riding on public transportation and other types of shared transportation.

Second, this Order also requires employees, contractors, owners, and volunteers of all Essential Businesses or those operating public transportation and other types of shared transportation to wear a Face Covering when at work.

And third, this Order also requires workers engaged in Minimum Basic Operations, Essential Infrastructure work, and Essential Government Functions to wear a Face Covering in areas where the public is present or likely to be and at any time when others are nearby.

This Order does not require that any child aged twelve years or younger wear a Face Covering and recommends that any child aged two years or younger should not wear one because of the risk of suffocation. This Order also does not apply to people who are in their own cars alone or with members of their own household.

A "Face Covering" means a covering made of cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, without holes, that covers only the nose and mouth and surrounding areas of the lower face. A Face Covering may be factory-made, or may be handmade and improvised from ordinary household materials. Any mask that incorporates a one-way valve (typically a raised plastic cylinder about the size of a quarter on the front or side of the mask) that is designed to facilitate easy exhaling is not a Face Covering under this Order. Valves of that type permit droplet release from the mask, putting others nearby at risk.

Essential Businesses must take all reasonable steps to prohibit any member of the public who is not wearing a Face Covering from entering and must not serve that person if those efforts are unsuccessful and seek to remove that person. A sample sign to be used for notifying customers can be found at the Alameda County Public Health Department website, at

Wearing a Face Covering is recommended but not required while engaged in outdoor recreation such as walking, hiking, bicycling, or running. Because running or bicycling causes people to more forcefully expel airborne particles, making the usual minimum 6 feet distance less adequate, runners and cyclists must take steps to avoid exposing others to those particles, which include the following measures: wearing a Face Covering when possible; crossing the street when running to avoid sidewalks with pedestrians; slowing down and moving to the side when unable to leave the sidewalk and nearing other people; never spitting; and avoiding running or cycling directly in front of or behind another runner or cyclist who is not in the same household.

Failure to comply with any of the provisions of this Order constitutes an imminent threat and immediate menace to public health, constitutes a public nuisance, and is punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

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