California Issues New, Stricter Statewide Mask Requirement

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an order Thursday requiring people to wear masks in nearly all public settings, changing previous guidance that left mask rules up to individual counties. 

Golden State residents now must wear masks in nearly every indoor and outdoor setting, with some exceptions carved out for people who are exercising or dining and people with a medical reason they can’t wear a covering. 

The new policy goes into effect as the state, which has followed a slower reopening plan than many others, sees an uptick in coronavirus cases. While state officials say that’s mostly due to increased testing and that COVID-19 hospitalizations remain largely steady, some counties are trending in the wrong direction.

“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 in a statement. “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 new requirement will force some counties to backtrack. On Monday, Orange County raised eyebrows when it dropped a requirement that people wear masks in public places where they can’t keep a distance from others. Officials relaxed rules despite Orange County having the fourth-highest number of cases among the state’s 58 counties and the fourth most deaths.

Meanwhile, some counties seeing favorable trends have stuck to strict mask rules. In San Francisco County, where the average number of cases dropped nearly 3% this week, mask requirements have been stricter since late May than what Newsom proposed. The county’s rules, for instance, don’t allow exceptions for people exercising. 

It remains unclear how the new statewide mask rule will be enforced. With President Donald Trump refusing to wear one and refusing to require them at his indoor campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, masks have become a lightning rod issue among some of his supporters who object to public safety mandates or question medical experts on COVID-19 risk factors. Guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, continues to urge mask-wearing as a key step to stem the spread of COVID-19.

With Trump’s administration taking a pass on offering a clear message on masks, a move by another governor on Thursday underscored the conflicting approach to the matter across the U.S.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) said communities in his state that require mask-wearing in courthouses and other public offices would be ineligible to receive federal funds allotted through the state to deal with the pandemic. The Omaha World-Herald reported that in Lincoln, the state capital, officials were going to require all visitors to wear masks when entering the City-County Building, but dropped those plans because of Ricketts’ comments. 

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